This is a guest post by Ellie Taylor, MS.
Myth #1: Picky eaters won’t try new foods.
Food rejection is normal. All children go through stages when they show strong preferences for foods they like and for foods they refuse to eat. When parents never offer the rejected food again, the child does not get the chance to change his opinion. It can take 10-20 exposures before the next bite. During periods of food rejection, parents can cheerfully insist that everyone at the table (adults included) tolerate a little bit of all foods on their plate, while at the same time making it clear than nobody has to eat anything they don’t like — “the just look at it” family eating rule. When the child sees other people enjoying the rejected food, he will often start eating it again. In fact, instead of labeling your child as a “picky eater”, you might want to start thinking, “This child is blessed with a selective palate!”.
Myth #2: Kids should try a bite even if they don’t like a particular food.
Adults and children can have strong food preferences. If your child refuses to eat a particular food, let her know that it is okay. Continue to role model enjoying a variety of foods yourself, and don’t permit anyone to whine about the food while at the table — “the no bad-mouthing the food” family eating rule. Teach kids to say “no thank you” and leave the food on their plate. Allow them to eat the foods they do like, but resist becoming their short order cook. If kids leave a meal or snack hungry, simply tell them when they can expect the next meal or next snack. Remember: short-term hunger is not dangerous.
Myth #3: Kids shouldn’t get dessert if they don’t finish their dinner.
Desserts should be part of your family nutrition plan. Fruit is the best option, and can be frozen, fresh or canned in juice. Other sweets, like cookies or ice cream, can be served at other times such as weekends, holidays or outings but shouldn’t become an expected ending to each meal. All foods should be enjoyed, but some foods need to be eaten more often than others especially fruits and vegetables.
Myth #4: Kids don’t like veggies.
Some children naturally love a variety of fruits and veggies, especially when the whole family eats them often with enthusiasm. For kids who show resistance, fix fruits and veggies in a kid-friendly way. Allow children to dip fruit in yogurt. Serve preschoolers a variety of frozen fruits and veggies, like berries, corn or peas. Offer raw veggies with dip before dinner or for a snack when everyone, including the cook, is starving. Try some new dipping adventures like red cabbage, crunchy jicama, or peppers cut into rings.
Myth #5: Sweet treats are fine for kids.
Most of us love sweets, but kids also love other snacks like whole grain crackers, nuts, fruits and veggies. Any time you offer a snack, you are teaching your child how to handle hunger. If she is given sweets as snacks she will not be learning to enjoy healthier options. Encourage snacking on veggies and fruits. Limit snacking on sugar-filled items. Remember, cupcakes and cookies aren’t the only high sugar, high calorie snacks. Store-bought muffins, granola bars, energy bars, yogurt and juices are usually packed with sweeteners, too. And if you have a “picky, selective eater”—be especially careful with snacks. Many picky eaters are just “great snackers” who come to the table already full.
Ellie Taylor, MS, is a retired nurse who spent her career in wellness and preventive medicine including serving as director of a hospital-based Wellness Center. Ellie is co-author of the award-winning book for parents, Feeding The Kids: The Flexible, No-Battles, Healthy Eating system for the Whole Family and the related curriculum for nutrition educators, Feeding the Kids Workshops: Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters. Ellie can be contacted at ellie@FeedingTheKids.com.