Clean living,  Health,  Kids,  Plant-based

How to help your “picky eaters” develop healthy eating habits for life

Almost every time we go to a restaurant, it’s irritatingly there: a few lines at the end of or in addition to the regular menu – a kids’ menu.  As a rule, a selection of the least nutritious dishes ends up there: burgers (with fries, of course!), chicken mcnuggets, pizza, fish & chips,  mac & cheese. If you are lucky, you’ll find a variation of pasta pomodoro uncoincidentally deprived of any veggies. Ain’t that quite some effort made to nourish a relentlessly growing body!

Supply follows demand you will say. And you will probably be right! Tired of hearing yet another “I don’t waaaaaaaaant thaaaaaaat!!!”, we tend to cater special menus for our “picky eaters”. I use quotation marks here because I’ve recently learned that there is no such thing as picky eaters. Luckily, there is just a “picky phase”. And we can get through it without creating any special menus for kids!

There is no such thing as picky eaters. There is just a “picky phase”. 

Try, try, try and try

Kids are predisposioned to learn from their parents what to eat.

If your child refuses to eat certain foods, it is very likely that s/he has probably not tried them enough times yet. According to French psychologists and nutritionists, the average time children need to try new foods before willingly agreeing to eat them is seven while many experts believe that number is as high as ten to fifteen times 1. We all know that from evolution point of view, children are wired to imitate their parents. Just try saying the “F***” word one too many times, and you’ll soon discover that I’m unfortunately right. The same goes for what we eat. If you drink green smoothies, your kid will drink green smoothies; if you indulge in burgers, your kid will copy paste that too. With variations, of course, but I hope you get my point!

Serve the foods you want your child to eat

If your baby eats ready-made pear puree when s/he is perfectly capable to eat fruit bites – s/he will learn that pear is a mashed food item that comes in a plastic pouch. Or that lasagna is a porridge-like substance you find in a glass jar. In other words, serve your kid real, unprocessed, homemade wholefoods (that you presumably want your kid to eat), and this is what s/he is going to learn to like – because it’s the only thing s/he will know.

The average time children need to try new foods before willingly agreeing to eat them is 7 while many experts believe that number is as high as 10-15 times.

And if you reinforce his/her food education by consistently modeling good behavior, i.e. eating the same foods as your kid – voilà! No kids’ menu is needed. What is needed though is commitment from us, parents, to introduce a plethora of different foods!

Start early!

It will require less effort from you when introducing new tastes, flavours and textures to build your child’s foundation for healthy eating habits if you go all in before the age of two2. After that, many children start to show signs of so called neophobia – opposition to new foods (well, everything new). There are many reasons to this: kids’ rate of growth slows down, which affects appetite, they go through developmentally appropriate “no-phase” to claim their independence. Some say that it’s nature’s way to protect small kids from poisoning themselves keeping them cautious of new foods. If not managed appropriately, however, neophobia can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases or type 2 diabetes later in life caused by lower intake of fiber, protein and monounsaturated fats. Luckily, babies are notoriously curious of all things new. So start early!

Start building foundation for you child’s healthy eating habits before neophobia normally kicks in, which is before the age of 2.

By giving into the “fussiness” we limit our children’s food choices, and also risk denying them much needed nutrition. In addition, by serving “special” food that none of the adults eat we send a signal that they are not full members of a family meal.

Patience and commitment is key

It’s essential to stay patient during the “no-phase” and accept it as developmentally appropriate. Personally, I continue offering a less popular food item without any expectation it will be eaten but with the encouragement to at least taste it. After a few tries – it normally works. If not – I’ll simply remove it and try again next time!


Here’s a sample of some of my kids’ favourite dishes (ages 9 months and 2 years and 9 months):

Green lentil dahl with brown rice (for obvious reasons, I omit both chili and red pepper and add ground cloves for extra flavour instead)
Butternut squash soup (I sometimes use half butternut squash and half sweet potatoes – yum!)
Tofu scramble 
Acai bowl (served with granola exept for my little one)
Banana and walnut pancakes (to make it even more nutritious I add a handful of kale and sub 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 0.5 cup of buckwheat and 0.5 cup of teff flour)

Sources

  1. Karen Le Billon (2012), “French Kids Eat Everything”, p. 11
  2. Ibid, p. 115

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