Growing up, I recall peeling off artichoke leaves and picking out juicy pomegranate seeds as two of my favorite ways to enjoy a snack. I realize now, of course, that not every kid is so inclined. My husband, for example, claimed to not have ever seen or tasted a real, fresh stemmed cherry until we met and HE WAS ALMOST 30! We obviously had very different experiences with food as children. As I prepare to have my first child, I’ve been thinking… Why is this? Why are some kids picky eaters and others aren’t? What does it take to get kids interested and excited in eating fresh foods? I know we all innately have our likes and dislikes, but (I have to admit) I believe it also comes from home and the guidance given by parents to their kids at a young age– mainly how familiar you make these foods to the family at large. What’s in the house on a daily basis? What do your children see YOU eating? How much importance is given to fresh and healthy foods vs. frozen, boxed, and convenient? I’ve also learned a few key things from working with clients with resistant children:
1. Kids like to be FAMILIAR with things: Kids can scare easily from new things they haven’t seen or touched or tasted. Too new, too different = Not comforting and not going to go there. So make things familiar, put the veggies out, have them hold and feel them before you even request a bite. Eat them yourself. Set the picture up so that the child is immersed by the good stuff. Research shows they may need to try new things up to 10x to be okay with it.
2. Kids like to Know WHY?: Why should they bother eating this vs. that? Take time to explain, in a calm and positive manner, why it is important and why you eat healthy on your own. One of my cousin’s kids was so upset when she discovered that a piece of beef jerky had a lot of additives and HFCS in it one day, because her parents had told her what damage it can do to your body, in detail. Kids respond much more to specifics if they are told a bit more than the standard “It’s just good for you, so eat it!”
3. Kids won’t eat well if they are NOT HUNGRY: Make sure that snacking all day long is not an option for your picky eaters. If they aren’t that hungry at meal time, they are much more likely to display their pickiness on what they prefer to eat and when.
4. Kids like things that LOOK FUN: My husband says that there is definitely a difference in eating a freshly cooked, vibrant green bean vs. a mushy, soggy one from a can. I think kids pick up on this - they still register flavor and have eyes to see whether something is visually pleasing to them. Play on this and make your food colorful, beautiful, and enticing for those little hands. Go to the source of your food and explore a farmer’s market with fun kids’ activities going on.
5. Kids will follow their parents’ lead through OBSERVATION (to a certain age): Set an example in your kitchen. Over time, as your children see what you eat and why you made these changes, they will first ask questions and then most likely not want to be left out anymore. Kids are in their prime of growing and evolving, and learn new habits much more quickly than adults.
For more info on how to approach kids - browse this great article: “Taking the Icky out of Picky Eaters”.