I have a lot of younger cousins. A lot. And if watching them grow up has taught me anything, it’s that kids have the weirdest eating habits. Whether it’s just eating pizza and mac-n-cheese for every meal to chicken nuggets all day every day to snacking from morning til night, these curious consumptive customs had me worrying day and night about my own kids and their future foodie ways.
So I took my anxiety to an expert. Not that kind of expert, but a pediatric expert. Here are some nifty tips and tricks from Dr. Deena Blanchard, MD, MPH. Fingers’ crossed they work!
Low-Stress is Key
I remember my grandfather constantly giving me a hard time about my eating habits. I loved to try everything but finish nothing. I think I heard, “Your eyes are bigger than your belly” at every meal. Dr. Blanchard says creating a fun low-stress environment is key.“It is important to take feeding cues from your child and encourage self-feeding and self-regulation from an early age,” said Dr. Blanchard, “Don’t get discouraged when introducing new foods! You want to evolve your babies palate and prevent them from becoming a picky eater.”Make mealtime fun by using cool placements, singing songs, and cracking jokes. If kids are relaxed and having a blast, they’re more likely to try new things.
Just because you know you’re giving them something new doesn’t mean they realize it! Dr. Blanchard suggests mixing and matching new foods with ones they already know and love. “Children are more likely to accept a new taste with something they already enjoy,” says Dr. Blanchard, “Try and mix different tastes and textures together to help your little one’s palate evolve.”As a baby, one of my twins would only eat mangoes. He wouldn’t even open his mouth for anything else, no matter how I bribed. So I threw mangoes into, and on, everything. Suddenly, he was eating mango chicken, peas and mangoes, mango yogurt and so on. At some point, I started removing the mangoes and he never realized. And I obviously never pointed it out.
Don’t Give In
Blanchard stresses that you should not become a short order cook. Yes, it’s easier to give in and let your children eat whatever they want, but in the end, you’re not helping them. And that’s certainly not helping you. “Children will go through more “picky” phases,” says Dr. Blanchard, “A developmentally normal child will not starve themselves.” Well, that’s good to know!Instead of giving in, try offering them small choices for meals, giving them the same thing the rest of the family is eating. Don’t give them the same thing night in, night out and make sure you stand strong. Even if it’s hard. It’s important to start showing them healthy habits from a young age.
Let Them Self-Feed
This may lead to a big mess every night, but children are all about power. You have it, they want it. Empower your kids by letting them feed themselves, choosing what goes on their plate, and exploring the different tastes and textures.As kids get older, have them join you in the kitchen. Getting them involved in preparing meals will have them excited to then try and taste them. “Let them pick out a new fruit or veggie to try,” Dr. Blanchard says, “Let older children help cook with you. Come up with creative recipe ideas with them. “The bottom-line: Keep mealtime fun.
I get it, it’s rough. There are tears, screams, and thrown food. And that’s just me. But it’s important to keep soldiering on. With kids, consistency is key. “Research shows that it can take a baby 10-15 times of trying a food before they accept a new food,” says Dr. Blanchard, “Don’t get comfortable with the foods they seem to like because it is easy! Move on to introducing new combinations and eventually textures as your little one grows.”“Don’t force feed your child. If your child isn’t hungry, take a break and try again later,” adds Dr. Blanchard. With children, it really is a battle of wills and you want to come out the winner. Mealtime can be a nightmare for many moms, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important lesson I learned from Dr. Blanchard? Making meals fun, relaxed, and a good time. Keeping kids engaged will have them looking forward to feedings and hopefully, ready to try new things.