As a mom, I know this is an issue we all deal with. I have yet to meet a child who eats anything and everything that is put in front of him. With my four children, I have the child who eats only veggies, who I call a self-made vegetarian (at 7 years old), and another child who would eat nothing but cereal for all three meals a day.
That's why I have compiled a few tips for how I deal with my picky eaters.
From the beginning
As a first-time mom, out of curiosity, I tried the baby food before giving it to my baby and then questioned what I was feeding my child. Then I remembered that their taste buds are different from ours. Ours are aged and have tasted many seasonings. Babies' have not, so a flavor that may be disgusting to us may be scrumptious to our infant.
We moms all love the fruit and dessert flavors in baby food but must remember to expose infants to all vegetables. Veggies should be fed first, starting with the greens. Your pediatrician will give you a feeding schedule, and it's important to stick to that schedule. If you go off schedule and cheat with a fruit, you may ruin the chance of introducing all the veggies.
Stick to the schedule
Your first test as a mother is the infant stage and introducing foods, but once you get to the age where the child has tasted it all and decided his likes and dislikes, then comes the child who wants to make his or her own menu for meals and snacks. That stage is when the true battle begins.
My daughter wanted to eat cereal everyday for every meal. After the constant fights between each meal and sitting her out from the dinner table, I felt horrible sending her to bed hungry. She would win the battle and I would give in to a bowl of cereal. But I searched for help, because I did not want her to win the war!
I learned a technique from Dr. Lois Mendelson, director of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades Therapeutic Nursery, for making a meal chart. It was for my daughter, but ended up being a great tool for all four of my children. I hung the visual chart on the pantry door to explain the meals I chose and the meals the children could choose. She felt liberated being able to pick her lunch and snack, and that left mommy serving two balanced meals and a healthy fruit or veggie snack. Of course, every meal she chose was cereal and a Pop-Tart for snack. By giving in a little and also staying in charge helped make a picky eater happy and Mommy happy too. As a mom, you have to pick your battles to win the war!
Kids love being involved in the kitchen, from being an assistant in cooking dinner to making their own PB&J to washing dishes. They enjoy the independence and doing what adults do. (If they only knew as adults we want to be kids again!)
Last summer, our chef, Jerome Maxwell, and I built a garden in our back yard. We made a list of the kids' favorite veggies along with veggies they don't seem to eat. We let the kids help plant the garden and help maintain it. Watching the garden transform from small seeds and the accomplishment of growing their own food made them want to taste each one and appreciate the work they put into gardening. As the winter came and the garden was covered with snow, Chef Jerome found ways to hide the veggies in a delicious meal. My children's favorite is the Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese. It includes whole wheat pasta, carrots, butternut squash, broccoli, skim milk, cheddar cheese and béchamel sauce.
I'm a strong believer that keeping all unhealthy treats from your child isn't a fair childhood. What's a childhood without ice cream, candy and cake? There's a way to moderate the sweets, allowing them at special occasions and holidays or after eating a healthy meal or a long weekend of athletics.
At the end of it all, we are our children's teachers. We must teach the picky eater that you are what you eat, that eating healthy correlates to a healthy lifestyle. You are what you eat, even as a kid!
Amber is a mother of four, executive director and co-founder of PitCCh In Foundation and creator/designer of CCandy.