by Nancy Tringali Piho
If you're the parent of an infant or toddler, you may not have encountered Picky Eating...yet. But a conversation with parents of an older child, visit to your daycare center at lunchtime, or evening out with your pre-school-age nephew may give you a glimpse of what's to come. And it's not always pretty!
Virtually every young child goes through some level of Picky Eating at one time or another. Parents who have the kids who turn out to be "good eaters" will tell you that the key to successfully navigating these stages is to put firm and healthful eating habits in place from the beginning, and then stick to them, even when the going gets rough.
So if you want to raise children who know the difference between chicken nuggets and Chicken Cordon Bleu -- and kids who don't put up a fight every time every time a new dish or a vegetable is set before them -- start thinking now, in the early eating days, about your food and dining choices. It's not too early to put these eight quick tips in place.
Sit down! Now is the time to teach that meals play an important role in our day. Make breakfast-lunch-dinner definite sit down-to-eat occasions, even if it's just for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
Doesn't this look good? Talk it up! Comment on the yummy smells from the oven, or the how pretty and juicy the steak looks. Little kids “eat with their eyes” just like adults do.
It's a dinner, not a diner! And that means, no short order cooking! From earliest eating days, children can and should eat what everyone else at the table is eating.
Focus on the whole meal. If you're serving chicken, peas and rice for dinner, then your toddler should have chicken, peas and rice on her plate, too. What if she scarfs down the rice and wants more? Not until she has a bite or two of the rest of the items in the meal.
Spice it up! Don't be afraid to let your toddler sample spicier dishes, like those found in Indian or Mexican cuisines. If it's really too hot, stir a little milk or sour cream into his portion, so that he still gets the flavor of the dish, without the full effect of the heat.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. If at first your toddler doesn't like spinach or Brussels sprouts or broccoli, try, try again. Researchers have found that up to 15 separate introductions of a food may required before it will be accepted by some children. Wait several days or weeks, but don't drop the offending item out of the menu entirely.
Pour out the juice. Kiddie beverages all have one thing in common: they are sweet, sweet, sweet to the taste. Don't start your little one off believing that drinks have to be sweet to taste good. Stick to plain milk and water.
And Nix the other kiddie products. Children's menus in restaurants, children's cereals and snack foods, packaged toddler meals: If it's a food product made for and marketed to kids, chances are, it's going to be inferior in taste and flavor to comparable adult products. Avoid these, and you will be way ahead in the game of preventing picky eating.
Nancy Piho is the author of My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything, Nancy is a public speaker, and has appeared on numerous radio and television shows as a spokesperson for products and events. Nancy lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and two boys, who love to eat octopus and just about everything else. For more information visit her site.