Friday, April 8, 2011

Picky Eaters

I know this doesn't pertain to most parents, (I'm being sarcastic) but today I'm going to address the segment of the picky eater population. I'm an expert in this field. I was a picky eater, I have a son who is a picky eater. There are three secrets to get your picky eater to eat healthy.

1. Have only healthy food at home.

2. Model eating healthy food

3. Relax, your child won't starve.

Do those three things seem drastic? Be honest. If they seem drastic it's time to take a step away from worrying about your child and look at your lifestyle. Why is there junk food in your house? Is it something you buy because you are in the habit of buying the same thing without thinking about it? Is it a matter of finances? Junk food is cheaper at the moment, but so much more expensive in the long run. Do you find buying things like pizza, boxed Macaroni and Cheese, hot dogs and ice cream because it will ensure that your child will eat?

As parents we sometimes have to make difficult choices for the good of our kids, but even more importantly we should be making good choices for our benefit. We need to be healthy in order to be the best parents we can be. Wouldn't it be wonderful to wake up full of energy and be able to fully engage with our children throughout the day? Wouldn't it be wonderful to not worry about EATING but instead concern ourselves with nutrition? Are you ready? It's not going to be easy but it's going to be so worth it for you and your children!

  • 1. Sit down and write down your regular shopping list. Now look at it! What is it that you've written down? Ready to eat, microwavable items or whole, colorful, fresh foods?
If you wrote down mostly whole, colorful, fresh foods you probably don't need to read the rest of this. If you wrote down mostly ready to eat stuff, go on to number 2.

  • 2. Rewrite your list and this time include mostly whole, colorful, fresh food. The best place is your local farmer's market, but if you are busy, don't put off buying healthy food until you can make a special trip to the farmer's market. You can buy fruits and veggies at the grocery store.
So now your child is whining because he's hungry and there are no chips, now what? The best way to deal with any whining is to acknowledge the issue, offer ONE alternative and then tell the child you will ignore any more whining, because there is nothing else you can do. This is not easy! As parents we are the problem solvers, but it's a good thing to let kids realize that you cannot solve every problem. You can follow this model:

Child: "I waaant a cookie! I'm huuuunnnngry."
Parent: "Oh honey, we are all out of cookies. You can have some sliced apples with peanut butter. That's yummy."
Child: "NOOOO!"
Parent: "Okay, sweetie. Now no more whining. I have nothing else for you to eat at the moment."
Child: "But I'm hungry."
Parent: (sings softly while ignoring the whining.)

Understand that many food issues are easier to handle if you establish set eating times and you model healthy eating yourself. Also remember that very young children do not get choices when it comes to food. You do not ask a child what he wants for breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner! You are the parent you decide. As your children get older, they may choose a snack or in my case, because I am not an early riser on the weekends, my kids can choose and get their own breakfast on Saturday morning. They know they have several things to choose from such as, yogurt, granola, any fruit available, toast with peanut butter and honey, milk or juice. I'm still not comfortable with them using the stove without supervision, so no pancakes or omelets.

  • 3. Model healthy eating. Have set eating times and make sure you give yourself time to prepare the meal. Have your child help you. Sit down and enjoy. Serve cut up oranges or strawberries for dessert. Introduce prunes...which really are as sweet as any candy. Talk about all the energy and nutrients this wonderful meal will provide for your body to grow strong and healthy. You may not think they don't understand or care, but you would be wrong. Kids are born to thrive and unless taught otherwise, it's ingrained in them to want to thrive.
  • 4. Relax. Your child will not starve. If you particularly worry, like I do, give them a multi-vitamin. While not a substitute for a good meal, it's helps keep parental worries at bay. Know that not unlike adults, your kids will go through phases. Sometimes my son cannot get enough strawberries. I can seriously but five pounds and they'll be gone by dinner. Of course we all pitch in and eat, but he devours them. Then all of sudden, he doesn't like the way the seeds feel on his tongue and he won't even look at them! That's fine, we always have bananas, or mangoes, or apples, or oranges.
  • 5. Be patient. Children have way more taste buds than adults do. So don't fret if your child can't stand the taste of tuna or celery. There are a lot of healthy options. Remember that many children are sensitive to textures. Introduce new foods slowly, without hoopla. Just serve it in pretty and appetizing way. Bring out the pretty platters and dishes. Let your child see you taste it. Moan and say, "Oooooh, that's yummy."
What about treats? You got to have treats! If you must have sugary foods (and I must). Make them yourself whenever possible. This creates wonderful scenarios. First, baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies with your child creates wonderful memories. It teaches your child skills, such as reading, chemistry and math. (can you say FRACTIONS?) It also helps the child connect with the food he eats. You should be conscious of how much work it takes to make something delicious. Children gain a great feeling of satisfaction. "Look what I made." Greater still, it takes work to bake cookies, so you are not going to do it everyday. This is a great way to keep the less healthy choices at bay. Around here we make a big batch of dough and then I freeze it. Sometimes for a whole week we'll have one cookie after dinner. I scoop out four tablespoons and bake those. When the kids ask for more (which of course they always do.) I can honestly say, I'm sorry we are all out of cookies.

I hear you screaming at me through the screen, "What about time? I don't have time to prepare fresh food!" I hear you. I work and home school and there is nothing worse than realizing it's 6:00 PM and everything is frozen. It's not easy, but planning is essential. Once you get in the habit of planning, it gets easier and easier. Meals don't have to be fancy, in fact, the best meals are often simple. If you have a menu, you can bring out your frozen stuff and put it in the fridge two day ahead of schedule. So if you are have steak tacos on Thursday, bring the steak down into the fridge on Tuesday. Prepare a pasta dish ahead of time and freeze it. Then just stick it in the oven and serve. Bean soups are wonderful, especially if you add lots of veggies and it freezes well too. Just heat and serve with a nice hearty slice of 10-grain bread and it's a complete meal.

Conscious living and conscious parenting takes time, but it is so worth it. This is the only shot you get at making your life meaningful. Shouldn't you take the time today to make it so? Put away all your excuses and really look at your diet and that of your child. It reflects so much more than food choices. Let me know if you need some healthy ideas for snacks and meals. I'd be happy to share them!