Like a lot of moms, I had a plan to keep my child far from the typical 3-year-old’s diet long before that time came.
I was going to introduce her to all sorts of foods. I wasn’t going to make her anything different than what we were having as a family. She would learn to love vegetables.
Things were going well in the beginning, and then she turned 3. I feel like overnight she began doing exactly what I feared. She wanted nothing but quesadillas or pasta (no sauce, just cheese). And snacks, Mom.
I, too, began doing what I feared — I gave in to her. Maybe because she was 3 years old and 25 pounds on a good day. Or maybe because I just didn’t want to battle; I wanted her to eat.
Now, my second child who is 4 and a far less picky eater is starting to develop habits of her own. She isn’t a fan of meal time, but a big advocate for snacks.
Meal time is a constant readjusting and learning process for parents and children. Children are going through periods of eating more or less and finding out what they like and dislike. Parents, it is our job to encourage our children to try new things and teach them not only how to eat healthy, but why we eat healthy.
It is a more difficult job than I ever thought. And I thought my husband was a picky eater. In an effort to get advice, I got some questions answered by mom and master nutritional therapist Aimee Darling.
How can I encourage my preschooler to try foods other than pasta and quesadillas?
This is called the “white diet” (salty, soft and sugary) and is a typical control issue. Children quickly learn that this is a hot button, and as parents, we bend. It’s best to fix it before it starts, but begin by giving them choices: this fruit or this fruit. Implement small changes, one at a time. Don’t hover over them — they smell fear and they have your number. Sit back, let them make their choices and walk away.
What about getting vegetables into their diet? Should I sneak them somehow?
You can always add a small amount of things like butternut squash to a spaghetti sauce, cauliflower to macaroni and cheese. It’s also helpful to create a snack tray using a muffin tin holder. Give them six choices of a few tablespoons in each one. Leave them alone and let them graze.
What are some suggestions on being able to tell the difference between being stubborn, not liking the taste or possibly having an allergy?
Trust your gut. When kids spit things out, have dark circles under the eyes, diaper rashes, bloated stomach, hives, etc., that could be an allergy. Also if they are really struggling with mood, sleep or ear infections.
Instead of a battleground, how can I make mealtime the happy and healthy time it should be?
Children will be more comfortable when parents are not so nervous. “This is what we are having. This is what we choose to eat. I’m not bribing you.” Let them choose one item at the grocery store — the vegetable or new fruit. Make a big deal when you eat it: “These green beans have been brought to you by Susan!” Let them wash veggies, rip lettuce, potato peel. It is an opportunity to teach colors and texture. (Say) something like, “What is your favorite crunchy food?” They become more interested making it a game.
Having a spouse who gives in quickly or is himself a picky eater makes things harder. Shouldn’t the whole family be on board?
Both of the parents need to be on the same page. It is 100 percent OK for Mom or Dad to not like mushrooms, but Mom and Dad can’t go on and on about how gross they are. We lead by example and we are not perfect, so we have to be honest with our challenges, too, with them. It takes time. Just stick to the basics: whole food, moderation.