Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Picky Eaters - how to not have them?

I decided a long time ago that I only wanted to cook one dinner, I didn't want to become a short order cook making separate meals for each child to meet their wishes. I didn't think this was unusual or different, I figured that most parents would have a goal like this. Seriously, aside from the issue of raising picky eaters, where do people find the time to make everyone their own meal?

I'd be lying if I said that my kids love everything, they have their favorites, like any child, but they at least try everything. Sometimes the looks I get when my child asks me what's for dinner and no matter my answer - chili, chicken gravy, lasagne, jambalaya - their response is "that's my favorite", are amusing. Why is it so hard to believe that kids can like an assortment of food?

I started out with advice I read in a book during my pregnancy. Eat a variety of foods and flavors during your pregnancy and while nursing - this way your child is exposed to variety early. Now, I know that for some, pregnancy leaves them with an unsettled stomach, and certainly, eating bland foods was something that I participated in for a period, but when I was not in a phase that had me queasy or sensitive to smells, I ate a variety of foods and flavors. I learned early on in nursing that I had to watch how much of a certain type of food I had, like broccoli for instance, so that my son's stomach didn't react so much to the compounds in the milk. But, once I was back to work, I simply would take bottles from different days to the daycare to ensure he didn't get too much of any one food in my milk.

When I began to introduce foods, we tried everything that came in a jar. They didn't' take to each item right away, but I went with the guidance that if they don't like it, try it again in a few days. Sometimes, it takes repeated trials for them to like a food. Then, when my kids started to eat table food, they ate from our food. Sure, early on they were only eating part of our meals - potatoes, beans, corn, etc - you know the more finger food portions. But, as they have grown, they eat a little of everything that we do. Now, I don't make them eat a ton of something, but I at least expect them to try it. Sometimes I resort to fibbing, when they protest that they don't like something, I tell them that they liked it last time (even if it is the first time) so that they will at least try it. Again, it can take multiple tries before they acquire a taste for a new food.

When they were learning to feed themselves, I would thicken the applesauce/yogurt and such with oatmeal or rice cereal so that they could manage the spoon and get more food in their mouth than on them (although I still think the distribution was about 50/50). Early bowls of cereal were light on milk, again so that they could do it themselves. I think that there is a connection between what they like to eat and what they can feed themselves - I never wanted them to not eat something because they couldn't do it on their own - especially when they were learning, my kids had a stubborn streak and were convinced that they had to do it on their own.

As I prepare dishes and put food on their plate, I try to give them a little more of things that they are familiar with than of the new stuff. When I make a dish with sauce, they get mostly pasta with a bit of sauce the first time. Then, the next time, I might give them more of the sauce. I have adjusted the spice levels in many dishes down to accommodate their more sensitive pallets (sometimes splitting the meal to two pans before spicing - using a fraction in theirs and normal levels in ours), but over time, as they have become more familiar with the flavors of different spices, I have started to increase the levels.

I make things for dinner that I don't eat and that my husband doesn't eat - not the main course, but side dishes and accompaniments. When we have chili, I don't eat the beans, for instance - if they are mixed in I will, but I prefer not to. Sometimes, I will make two vegetables - lima beans for my husband and cauliflower for me - the kids have a little of both. I want them to know and understand that not everyone likes everything and some people like different things, but just because you don't prefer to have something like beans, doesn't mean you don't like the rest of the dish.

My kids eat things that some don't expect for kids to like - salads, cauliflower, broccoli, mangoes, GoLean Crunch (they love this with frozen blueberries), and more. They also eat a lot of what are typical kid foods - chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, hot dogs and Cheerios. I just make sure that as I plan a week's menu to include a balance, with about one dinner a week being a kid favorite.

Do I know how to not have picky eaters? I don't know, I just know that this has worked for me. For more tips and tricks that work, check out Works for Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.


Mama Melissa said...

great ideas. i employ most of them. :)

'Becca said...

Great advice! I have done all this, and my son (5) does get picky at times, but he eats a LOT more variety of foods than many kids his age.

One thing we did differently was when he started solids, we gave him the jarred baby food only once in a while. Most of the time, we ground up some of our food using a Happy Baby food grinder, which is a very simple, portable, hand-cranked gadget that turns soft-to-medium foods into mush. One of his first favorite foods was zucchini tofu stir-fry; I just left out the nuts, and everything but the zucchini skins would go through the grinder. He yummed it down, garlic, ginger, and all, at 8 months!