Modern Parenting

How to Avoid Raising a Picky Eater

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By the time my son is one year old, he will have sampled alligator, ahi tuna, spicy boudin sausage, fried oysters, tofu, and spicy Thai coconut curry.  He absolutely loves anything spicy, particularly salsa—he eats it by the spoonful when we go out for Mexican food!

Most parents that we talk to are amazed by what our son will eat.  They share stories about how exhausted they are from making double meals, overpaying for buttered noodles at restaurants, wasting money buying baby food and special toddler snacks at the grocery store, and buying bags upon bags of frozen chicken nuggets.

Not all children are the same, and I am sure there are kids out there who are truly very picky, but I believe that most picky eaters are taught to be that way by American culture.  In other countries around the world, kids enjoy a diet similar to adults from birth.  Have you seen what French school children eat for lunch?  It looks so much better than sloppy joes and mac and cheese!

I want to share with you how I did it—how I managed to have a small child that is happy eating pretty much anything—because at the end of the day, not having to cater to a picky eater saves me both money and sanity.

Start from an early age.

As soon as your child eats solid food and is past the puree stage, feed him or her from your plate.  Cut food up into small pieces, and avoid anything crunchy that your child cannot chew without molars—most food that is soft will be just fine.  I find the exception to that is tortillas, which get stuck on the roof of the mouth.

Basically, just feed your child whatever you are eating.  If you are at a restaurant, order as you normally would and then share bites of your dish with your child.  Introduce baby to all the different and amazing textures and flavors of the foods you enjoy.  You can even try something new yourself, and share the experience with your baby!

If you start feeding your child bland specially-made-for-children food from the beginning, it will be a hard habit to break.  So start your baby off right and feed him real, delicious, “adult” foods.

*Important Tip* The only thing off limits is honey, which your baby shouldn’t consume until he is one year old—it could cause botulism, which is a life-threatening illness.   Always be within arm’s reach of your child when he is eating solid food in case he chokes, and know what to do in case of an emergency.

Only make one dinner.

This one will save you some serious money.  Only make one meal for everyone.  Two meals every night will be a grocery budget buster, and it encourages picky eating behavior.

Making one meal for everyone will be easier if you start it from the beginning and make it a household rule.  Your children won’t know anything else, and you can head off that problem from the beginning.  If you are already making two meals, it is much harder to get out of the habit, so make sure you start off on the right foot.

Change your attitude.

Your child mimics your behavior and attitudes.  Any parent whose child has said a bad word knows that this is the truth.  Kids see and hear everything, they are always learning, and this applies to food as well.

If you have a great attitude about food and enjoy eating variety and sharing the joys of food with your children, they will grow up with a healthy attitude about food.  You set the example for your children.

If you make it a big deal to eat “grown up” food at the table, your child will think it is a big deal.  If you act like it is an everyday occurrence to try a new food, then your child will not think anything of it.

I have noticed that parents of picky eaters often “warn” their children ahead of time that they won’t like the food.  They talk about food in a way that cautions children that it is gross.  Sometimes it is subtle—for instance, choosing boring food items for their child while everyone else is eating good food.  Other times it is obvious—like when they say “You won’t like that” before the child goes to try something new.  Don’t do this.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a parent say, “Be careful, this is spicy”.  Instead, if you really want to warn your child, say “Mommy really likes this because it is spicy, what do you think?”

Make food into a game.

For small children, let them squish their food between their fingers, smell it, and taste it.  Use all five senses to enjoy and learn about the food.  Yes, this is messy.  Yes, lots of food ends up on the floor.  But I do not think it is wasteful, because it allows children to naturally explore new foods.

Ask age appropriate questions about the food, such as “What color is it?” and “What shape is it cut into?” for younger kids.

Did you know it takes more than 20 “tastes” to introduce a new food to a child?

Instead of saying “just taste it” to older kids, play 20 questions to get those 20 tastes in!  Ask questions like “What texture is this?” “What does it remind you of?”  “Is it salty?”  “Have you tasted anything similar?” “Can you taste the basil?” etc.    By the time you are done asking questions about the food, their plate is clean and you may find that they loved it all along!

Work on food vocabulary like sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and the new one — umami.  Talk about textures and flavors, and make tasting food into a fun game.   Get the kids involved in the kitchen, and teach them about how different cooking techniques affect the flavor and the texture—let them try it all.  You can even watch kid’s cooking shows with them to get them more interested!  Before you know it, you could have the next Kid’s Chopped star on your hands!

Raising a child to enjoy great food and be an adventurous eater is all up to the parents.  It starts at a very young age and includes sharing what you are eating with your child instead of making them a separate meal.  It is all about the parent’s attitude toward food and how they speak to their child about  trying new and exciting flavors.  For older children, turn tasting into a learning game to foster a lifelong love of good food.

And the best part?  No more buying double dinners, overpriced Gerber products, or bland kid’s meals.  It saves you money and turns dinner back into a time for family to reconnect and share an experience.  What more could you ask for?

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