Emerging science is making us more aware of the need to feed our children a wide range of foods with emphasis on nutritional content. The challenge we face as parents however, is actually having them eat this variety of nutritious foods. Often we end up finding ourselves in the role of their personal short-order cook because, let’s face it, cajoling a picky eater into trying a new food can feel really stressful for all involved.
As you probably know, there are some problems with eating the same foods all of the time. The most obvious is that often there will be a nutritional component that is lacking, such as vitamins C, B12, or folate or minerals magnesium, calcium, or iron. Not getting enough of these nutrients could cause a variety of different health issues, including anemia, slowed growth, or behavioral problems. Vegetables are our best source of nutrients, both vitamins and minerals. Getting them into your picky eater’s tummy is critical.
If your child is suffering from a digestive issue, like tummy aches, constipation or reflux, it may be the foods that they love most causing the problem. Encouraging them to consume a wider variety of foods is often enough to resolve the problem.
Tips to Help Your Child Eat New Foods:
- Eat the rainbow! Choose fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors – like purple carrots, blueberries, papaya, chard, raspberries. Not only are these nutritious, they’re visually appealing and fun to eat.
- Get their buy in. Let your child help with grocery shopping as well as cooking and preparing the foods. They are much more likely to try something that they had a hand in choosing and preparing. In fact, allowing them some experimentation and autonomy in food prep, will up their investment in eating that food.
- Be a model. Show your kids how delicious you think vegetables are too! Be sure to let them see you also eating well. If you don’t love something nutritious you’ve put on your plate, it’s ok to let them know that you eat it to be kind to your body and not just for the taste.
- Keep trying. A child should try a food at least 15 times before they decide if they like it. What we like and don’t like changes over time, so it’s good to keep at it in case their preferences evolve as they get older.
- Practice mindful eating. Allow them to choose the amount that they try, then have them be as specific as possible in describing the aroma, taste and texture. This will get them out of the rut of judging food as just “good” or “bad.”
- Don’t get emotionally invested yourself. Your child can tell when you are getting anxious or upset. The last thing that you want is for mealtimes to become laden with frustration for the family. Visualize them enjoying the food, be patient and definitely respect their appetite.
- Include a favorite. Always include at least one thing on the plate that you know they will enjoy. This definitely takes some pressure off.
Hidden Cause of Picky Eating
Picky eating can also be the result of a child having a sensory sensitivity. Some children have oral sensitivities that make it difficult for them to have certain textures in their mouth, such as eating particular foods or brushing their teeth. If a child has a hypersensitivity to smells, they may not eat foods that have a pungent odor or one they just don’t prefer. Occupational therapists can help kids and their families work through sensory issues by slowly desensitizing the child, building positive thoughts around eating food and through playing games. The old saying “Don’t play with your
food,” is not accepted by those treating children for these sorts of sensitivities!
In the short run, you may consider introducing a high quality multivitamin to make sure that all of their vitamin and mineral needs are covered. If you’re particularly worried that your child’s eating is compromising their wellbeing, make an appointment with your doctor.
October 6-12 is Naturopathic Medicine Week! Visit us on the web to learn about Naturopathic Medicine at Intuition Wellness Center!
At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults and families. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.
Written by: Dr. Kate Sage, Naturopathic Family Physician with contributions from Anne Swiderek, Pediatric Occupational Therapist.