Hippocrates was right on the money when he said, “Let food be thy medicine”. However, as much as we as adults may know this is true, it can be challenging to turn this ideal into reality with our children. Food refusal is arguably more common now than ever before, and can make mealtimes stressful and emotionally charged for parents and kiddos alike. So instead of waging World War III with your 5 year old over a bite of broccoli at dinner, check out these tips:
Keep fruit and/or veggies present at every meal
To clarify, this DOES NOT mean placing fruit/veggies on your child’s plate at every meal and forcing a bite. Even if it’s just a visual, like a bowl of clementines on the counter, or hummus and carrots on a tray with dinner, this is a great way to subtly expose your child to fresh produce in a non-threatening way. Eventually, this will spark their curiosity to reach into the bowl and see what those clementines are all about.
Find replacements for foods that need to be removed from your child’s diet
Hop on Pinterest or Google to find substitutes for pizza (ex. Fruit pizza with watermelon “crust”, or simply a crust that is whole food based with just a few ingredients), toaster waffles (check out Medical Medium’s Wild Blueberry Pancake recipe), etc.
Get creative with smoothies
Smoothies are a FABULOUS way to get lots of nutrients into your kiddo’s belly. You can cover up lots of greens and veggies with bananas, dates, and mangos. Use berries for color to make that spinach you snuck in even more incognito.
For a sweet treat, try nice cream
Blend up some frozen bananas for a healthy frozen treat. Get creative with flavors and add-ins that appeal to your child. Click here for 10 nice cream recipes.
Learn which textures your child likes and introduce new foods with that same texture (ex: french fries-baked squash, sweet potatoes, root vegetables
If your child loves french fries, try baked squash fries, sweet potato fries, and root veggie fries.
Use cookie cutters on melon or other food slices
Race car shaped watermelon is WAY more fun to eat...that’s just a fact :)
Use favorite colors to draw interest
As I mentioned in the smoothie tip above, you can use color to your advantage. Not only can you disguise greens and veggies with berries/fruit, you can also cater a smoothie or meal to your child’s favorite color. If they love purple, serve them a plate full of blackberries, a wild blueberry smoothie, raisins, grapes, and even purple heirloom carrots and potatoes (yes, these do exist!!!)
Make things sweet (honey, dates, bananas, maple syrup)
Kids love sweets, why fight it? Instead of using cane sugar when you’re baking muffins/cakes/cookies, use honey or maple syrup. Bonus Tip: make sure you’re using raw organic honey and 100% pure organic maple syrup so you avoid any fillers or adulterants that may be in conventional products.
Always have fruits and veggies available
When the snack attack hits, be prepared with fresh fruit and veggies for your kiddo to munch on. Keep a bowl of grapes on the counter, or designate a shelf/drawer in the fridge for cut/prepped berries, carrots, cucumber, peppers, apple slices, etc.
Casually praise your child when they make healthy food choices (empowering and offers them a feeling of control over their choices)
Let your child know how proud you are of their choice to have an apple for snack, or for finishing their green beans at dinner. This empowers them and reinforces their choice and is way more effective than drawing attention to what they’re not eating. Focusing on the negative usually leads to a mealtime standoff, and can turn a child off to those foods for life.
Talk to your child about what different foods can do for their body
Believe it or not, children like to hear about how foods can benefit their bodies. While they’re eating mango for a bedtime snack, tell them all about how it can help them sleep soundly at night. Sharing this info with them sets them up for a lifetime of viewing food as a tool for health and healing, which is invaluable. As an added bonus, parents end up learning more about how foods affect the body too!
Honor your child’s appetite (or lack thereof)
Forced eating can be really harmful to a child’s relationship with food, and their relationship with you. If they aren’t hungry, take a moment and talk to them about that. If their lack of appetite is due to not liking the food in front of them, DON’T be their short order cook. CHILDREN WILL NOT STARVE THEMSELVES. Missing a meal (or a few meals) will not derail their life, and it does not make you a bad parent. It’s better to just not make it a big deal, so you don’t end up rewarding undesired behavior with attention. If they truly are not hungry, that is okay too. If it becomes a pattern, connect with your child’s healthcare practitioner to dig a little deeper.
Establish a consistent routine for daily snacks and meals
Children thrive on routine. Do your best to serve meals at the same time each day, so they can get into the flow of knowing what to expect. Sporadic meals/snacks can also affect blood sugar levels, which in turn can affect behavior.
Recruit your child as your sous chef
Though it may take more time, and create more mess, cooking with your child is key. It teaches them valuable developmental skills, like measuring, hand eye coordination, and patience. It also familiarizes them with different foods, and the pride of having made their own meal may be enough to get them to try foods they otherwise wouldn’t. Best of all, it’s an opportunity to bond and spend quality time together.
Make food fun
Use funky cups, twisty straws,and forks shaped like a truck. Take a trip to the store and let your child choose the bowl and plate they want to eat their meals from. Teach simple math with grapes. Read books about talking produce. The possibilities are endless!!
What tips have worked for you and your picky eater? I’d love to hear your success stories. If you’d like more guidance and support for your child’s healing, let’s chat! I am SUPER passionate about helping make whole foods tasty and simple for families, because food truly is the foundation of health.