As a holistic health doctor, I see it all the time. These days kids turn their nose up at just about anything green, healthy, and nutrient dense in search for cardboard, sugar-laden, fat packed, good tasting food options. Couple that with challenges of pregnancy, gut health, mineral deficiencies, and many children almost come out of the womb as picky eaters. Many parents come to the practice concerned about their children’s growth, development, and nutrition. I would like to ease you from the frustration and acknowledge that you are doing the best you can raise a free thinking human being. You are not able to force them to do something, even if we think we can, want to, or otherwise. I have had to learn that myself as a mother and a holistic health doctor. Children, even young ones now are coming into this world full of opinions, communications, and wisdom well beyond their years. As a parent, you can either burn yourself out trying to force your children to do something they do not want to do for whatever reason or learn to educate and stand back and let them make their own decisions. This can be a tough ask, especially as you fill your head with various nutrition dangers, being stressed by healthcare providers (some who are not holistic healthcare providers), school officials, etc. There has not been any greater time than now that we as parents are more stressed and guilted about the ills of parenting, the ills of improper nutrition, and the ills of poor self-care. Beating yourself up surely is not going to produce the results you are looking for as you work to help support the picky eater in your house. Here are a few ideas to help the process along:
- Offer lots of colorful options – Holistic healthcare doctors work to engage your child’s senses and we encourage you to do the same with eating color is one of those through the eye site. Try to have a plate that has multiple colors on it from green to red to orange and allow them to choose which items that seem most appealing to them. This new generation of children are very sensitive, and those with the more visual appeal will enjoy the bright, refreshing eye site palate choices they can choose from. Perhaps even brushing up on your food presentation could be helpful as well to include squiggles on the plate of smiley faces, cartoon characters, and more. Get creative it may be just as fun making it as it is for your child to explore it.
- Multiple textures – As a holistic healthcare doctor, I can hear some of you groaning now as many children have texture challenges, however, do not fear to offer various textures for your child to explore. Ultimately, they must find what works for them and what doesn’t and try to let go of the need to sway, control, or otherwise coerce out of fear of a lack of nutrition. We want to develop healthy habits with food and a healthy association with food that works for them.
- No shaming, no blaming, no coercion – This is an easy one to slip up on. Even if you have made the most nutrient dense, yummiest tasting food option, they may not want to eat it. This does not mean you are a failure as a parent. This is not a personal attack. Yes, there are starving children everywhere and no your child will not eat the food if you push harder or convince more. I have often worked with adults deprogramming their childhood angst associated with food. From not leaving the table all night, to being forced to eat every bite on their plate, to being forced only to eat certain things and shamed not to eat others how we teach our children about food stays with them, so keep it light, enjoyable, and fun.
- Monkey see monkey do – You cannot exactly boast about all of the healthy food items when they see you eating junk. As a holistic health care doctor, I am not saying you now need to be a perfect eater, just consider that kids watch and pick up everything. Even things that you do not think they see, so be mindful of your own eating process. Do you eat when you are stressed? Do you eat when you are bored? These unconscious habits are being spunged up, even when we do not know they exist.
- Think Independence – Picky eaters also want their thoughts and choices respected so involve them in the meal planning and allow them to choose the dishes. Make some suggestions and offering but begin early by teaching them the importance of meal planning. M daughter loved cooking with my Dad and often speaks about making quesadillas and various food items. Even those these are not the healthiest options she can always doctor them up with healthy items later on as their palate changes over time.
Lastly, it is important to be patient with your children and yourself. I tend to offer this patience as a holistic health doctor teaching people that developing healthy eating habits takes time and should not be a stressful and difficult experience. Here are some other tips for helping picky eaters here: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/nutrition/Pages/Picky-Eaters.aspx. There are plenty of times that even myself does not want to eat 100 percent healthy, and in those moments, I do provide myself those options. I have been super restrictive at times and more loose and relaxed at other times. Stress has been a big factor for me in my eating as well as convenience. I often have seen how these habits have developed in my daughter, mostly the, not the stress eating part. I have had to be patient with myself and her by allowing her to make healthy choices that best suit her. In some moments, when I think all is lost, she orders a salad and explains that she has been eating unhealthy lately and needs to clean it up. Hooray! I celebrate the small success and you should too as you develop impressionable palates.