If you have ever tried to feed a child either your own or others you know full well that this can be a real challenge. Limit the frustration and increase the fun factor by incorporating some of the tips below. There will be less battles and more healthy food eaten in no time.
- Get in as much variety as you can. Most babies and toddlers under two are willing to eat just about anything. Research suggests that the more dietary variety kids get in the very early years, the more accepting they will be later on.
- Make a menu. Children need to eat every three to four hours: three meals, two snacks, and lots of fluids. If you plan for these, your child's diet will be much more balanced and you will be prepared for when hunger strikes
- Don't become a short-order cook. Avoid getting into the habit of making a meal for the adults and one for the kids. Prepare one meal for everybody and serve it family-style so the kids can pick and choose what they want. Children often mimic their parents' behaviour, so one of these days, they'll eat most of the food you serve them.
- Bite your tongue. As hard as this may be, try not to comment on what or how much your kids are eating. Be as neutral as possible. Remember, you've done your job as a parent by serving balanced meals; your kids are responsible for eating them. If you play food enforcer -- saying things like "Eat your vegetables" -- your child will only resist.
- Introduce new foods slowly. Children are new-food-phobic by nature. Reassure your kids that their taste buds sometimes have to get used to a flavour before they'll like the taste. Repeated exposure will see them eating more and more different foods over time.
- Dip it. If your kids won't eat vegetables, experiment with dips. It is a fun and interactive way for them to experiment with new foods. Use dips such as hummus, salsa, guacamole and yogurt-based dressings.
- Get your kids cooking. If your children become involved in choosing or preparing meals, they'll be more interested in eating what they've created. Take them to the store, and let them choose produce for you. If they're old enough, allow them to cut up vegetables and mix them into a salad. Baking is also a fun way to work together to make up some yummy treats.
- Make healthy foods highly accessible. Lay out an attractive bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. Include veggies with dip with meals and while you’re preparing dinner. Studies show the visibility of food increases desire to eat it.
- Make time for family meals. Family meals combine the benefits of repeated exposure with role modeling. It also teaches kids how to behave at the dinner table and gives families time to connect.
- Use familiar sauces and dressings. Research suggests that children are more likely to accept new foods if they are similar to other recipes they like. For example if you want your kids to eat more salads put a lot of their favourite dressing in the bowl and a small amount of vegetables. Over time decrease the amount of dressing and increase the amount of vegetable. This will help them to transition over time.
- Try new foods when they are hungry: You probably notice there are times of day when your child is hungrier than others. Work with your child’s natural appetite rhythm. If they typically eat small amounts at dinner but seem ravenous at lunch, try new foods then.
- Pair the new items with old standbys. If your child is ultra-picky don't be tempted to only provide what they like. Keep offering the same food everyone else is eating but always offer fruit, bread and some accompaniment that they will eat. Over time they will become less picky.
- Give them a choice. If kids are given the choice between two veggies they are more likely to consume one of them then if they are only presented with one option. When you can, have your child decide between two items, the peas or carrots, banana or cantaloupe. This helps them feel like they made the decision of what vegetable to eat. And they just might respond by eating it.
- Cut back on junk. Remember, you -- not your kids -- are in charge of the foods that enter the house. By having fewer junk foods around, there will be less temptation for you and your children.
- Allow treats. Having less healthy foods occasionally keeps them from becoming forbidden -- and thus even more appealing. Call candy, soda, and cookies "sometimes" foods. Let one day a week be a treat day so they can pick whatever they would like of the "sometimes" foods.
- Have fun. The more creative the meal is, the greater the variety of foods kids will eat. Make smiley-face pancakes and give foods silly names. (Broccoli florets are "baby trees" or "dinosaur food.") Anything mini is always a hit too. Use cookie cutters to turn toast into hearts and stars, which children love.
- Be a role model. If you're constantly on a diet or have erratic eating habits, your children will grow up thinking that this sort of behaviour is normal. Be honest with yourself about the kinds of food messages you're sending. Trust your body to tell you when you're hungry and when you're full, and your kids will learn to do the same.
- Adjust your attitude. Realize that what your kids eat over time is what matters. Having popcorn at the movies or eating an ice-cream sundae are some of life's real pleasures. As long as you balance these times with smart food choices and physical activity, your children will be fine.
By Nicole Boisvert CHN