I've received a lot of requests for a post on kid-friendly eating and picky eaters. I'm not a mom yet, but I've had my share of babysitting and camp counseling, and I was quite the picky eater as a child (loved sugar, hated veggies). Here are my thoughts on picky eating children with some recipe ideas. If you walk through the grocery store and take a look at the kid-friendly foods, what do you see? Sugary cereal, Poptarts, "fruit" snacks, juice, chicken nuggets. They're visible at kids' height, portray their favorite characters and TV stars, and kids see these foods on TV commercials. Not to mention, they're marketed as a nutritious choice with labels like "contains whole grains," even if it's over 50% sugar!
Besides the major issue of marketing junk food to kids, none of these foods are good sources of nutrients for growing kids. Kids need superior nutrition more than ever! The building blocks for their brain, bones, muscles, organs, and tissues require a steady source of energy, protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. I'm not saying kids should never have treats or sugar, but the majority of their diet should be coming from nutrient-dense foods.
As I know, many kids don't want to eat these fruits and veggies and stick to their few favorite foods - mine was peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch everyday for years. Here are some tips for feeding picky eaters.
Provide Nutrient-Dense Foods
Keep nutrient-dense foods in the house like fruits, vegetables, proteins like meats, eggs, fish full-fat dairy, beans, healthy fats and carbohydrates. Keep a wide variety of foods available. The parents' job is to make healthy foods available, but let your child (depending on the age) serve themselves.
Encourage them to try a few bites of each food each time it is available rather than trying it once and "not liking it." Kids may be super-tasters and can taste bitter foods like veggies much stronger than adults - it's a protective mechanism, in case the food is poisonous. Try cooking veggies in a variety of different ways like roasting, sauteeing, or adding to other foods like spinach in a smoothie.
Don't Force the Clean Plate Club
Kids have an innate ability to monitor their energy needs on a day to day basis. Some days, they will naturally eat more while others, they may eat very little. Studies show that over a weeks' time, their energy intake is relatively in balance.
Don't force your kids to "clean their plate." They can monitor their hunger and fullness levels compared to adults who are out of tune with when they are full. Learn a lesson from your kids, eat slowly, and pause to check in if you are full or still hungry during your meal.
Along the same lines, try to avoid promises or rewards, like "If you eat your veggies, you can have a cookie after dinner." This teaches your child that eating veggies is a form of punishment, and they have to be good in order to get a cookie. Start developing a healthy relationship with food from the beginning.
Top it with Fat
Kids love healthy fats for a reason - they taste good, and it's a nutrient-rich source of energy. Fats like pastured butter, olive or coconut oil, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and avocado are great! Our brains are made up of 60% of fatty acids, mostly omega-3 fats. Kids especially need good quality fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) as they are growing. Serve veggies with butter or olive oil on top, cook up eggs for breakfast and top them with avocado.
Make Food Fun!
When kids get involved in cooking, they are much more interested and willing to try new foods! Make food fun like cutting butternut squash into fun shapes and roasting, baking together, or pictures with the food.
If kids are older, get them involved with cooking by teaching them how to cook easier meals or making their lunch. Allow them to be involved with meal time like setting the table.
Eat as a Family
There's a lot of great research out there showing the benefits of eating together as a family, including lower risk of developing poor eating habits, eating disorders, alcohol or substance abuse, and tend to perform better academically. It's time to sit down, bond with loved ones, and enjoy eating food mindfully together. Family meals are usually home-cooked and more nutritious than on-the-go food. You have to eat your veggies too! Your child isn't going to want to eat broccoli if you don't show interest in it as well. Create a ritual at meal-time like sharing your favorite moment of the day.
If you're looking for kid-friendly meals or snacks, here are some great ones!
- Kid Friendly Favorites by Hollywood Homestead --> lots of great ones in here!
- 60+ Nutrient-Dense Recipes Every Kid will Love from Live Simply
- Homemade Fruit Snacks by Untrained Housewife
- Sour Kiwi Gummies by A Happy Healthnut
- Chocolate Almond Date Bars by All Things Health
- Spiced Maple Roasted Chickpeas by 20 Something Allergies
- Maple Roasted Butternut Stars by Mother Tribe
- Gluten-Free Oven Baked Chicken Nuggets from A Girl Worth Saving
- Natural Chocolate Milk Syrup from Rethink Simple
- Homemade Fudgesicles from Recipes to Nourish
- Gluten-Free Banana Pancakes from Recipes to Nourish
Here's a few posts on eating and cooking with kids.
- Cooking with Kids from Jennifer Margulis
- How to have more Pleasant Meal Times with Kids by Divine Health from the Inside Out
- How to Get your Kids to Eat More Veggies by Divine Health from the Inside Out