Author: Kira Sutherland, Naturopath & Sports Nutritionist (Adv dip Nat, Adv dip Nut)
As a naturopath and nutritionist, I thought I would be great at feeding my child when I finally had one. I knew all the right things a baby and growing child should eat. I spoke to countless parents in consultations over their children's' eating habits and food ideas and I work with many teenage athletes with sports nutrition, so I thought I was well prepared for the job. Teaching nutrition to clients is quite a different situation from feeding your own child and their myriad of friends that come over to play.
Of course I thought I would have one of those children who eats everything, happily munching on broccoli and tomatoes and getting all their important nutrients. This is where I should insert the laughing out loud emoji, as my daughter’s nutritional aspirations melted into the real struggle of trying to feed a child healthy food when they have a distinct aversion to almost any green food that exists.
How do parents feed kids in the modern world?
Children are an interesting group of 'gourmet snobs', liking and disliking the same food within the same day or week. I am not talking about a baby who is happy to eat all kinds of mashed up green foods and other vegetables. They can’t speak yet, so happily gobble down most things we offer. I am talking about the child/teen who can clearly communicate their dislikes of almost anything you make them eat that may be ever so slightly on the spectrum of 'healthy'.
In all honesty, I am making this sound worse than it is. Most kids, including my daughter, will have their ‘select’ vegetables they are willing to eat, but often this is of limited variety and color. The red, yellow, and orange vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potato, and tomato are often on the YES list for kids because they are sweeter and higher in natural carbohydrates than green vegetables. On a side note: I once had 3 kids leave all the green colored vegetable chips in a bowl. They were all potato chips, but came in 3 colors with a hint of vegetables used as coloring agents. No one ate the green ones! I then lined them up for a blind taste test and no one could tell the difference between the orange, yellow, or green chip. Even I would have fibbed and said the green chip was the yellow one!
Yes, we all have friends whose kids LOVE vegetables and happily eat your entire vegetable and dip platter within minutes, but in my personal and professional experience, this is not the norm. I do cry myself to sleep when this happens on occasion and dream of the day my daughter would choose a broccoli floret without an ultimatum or plea. If it makes you feel any better, I also have friends whose children live on pasta and white bread... so there is hope for us all.
Enough of the talk over how kids and teens are hard to feed. The question is what to do about it. There are entire books devoted to hiding food in different pasta sauces, muffins, and smoothies - and I must admit this works a lot of the time. Science tells us that kids' taste buds are much stronger than an adult or to be more exact, children have more taste buds than an adult, so they do have a larger reaction to bitter greens and vegetables than an adult would. What can parents do to feed your picky eater a healthier diet I hear you ask?
Below is the list of my top ways to get picky eaters eating
- Chop vegetables into very small pieces and blend into sauces.
- Make muffins using such ingredients as carrots and zucchini etc.
- Keep trying! It can take 20 times for a child to try a food before they start to like it.
- Smoothies are a great way to add colorful fruits and vegetables into a child's diet. Most kids love a meal you can have with a straw. Use a variety of liquids to see what they prefer and you can even add avocado or spinach into the mix.
- Multivitamin powders/smoothies. There are great products on the market like Kids Good Stuff by Nuzest that have taken all the hard work out of the equation for you! Smoothies are a go to for me, especially when short on time. These multivitamins powder mixes are kid-approved and delicious, with flavor offerings like Vanilla Caramel and Rich Chocolate.
- Popsicles are a great way to use leftover smoothies that become a fantastic afternoon or after dinner treat. My daughter loves helping me make them as well.
- Get your kids/teens involved in the kitchen, cutting, mixing and helping in general. I find the more my daughter helps with a meal, the more she is willing to try new things. I often teach her about the nutritional value of what we are eating and that makes it more inspiring for her to try something new or different.
- Baked vegetables are a favorite at my house. Cut them into shapes resembling animals or chips if they need that extra motivation.
- Eating with family and friends. Sitting down and having a proper meal with family can motivate kids to try new things when they get to see others eating and enjoying the food. Try not to rush your meals, eat in the car or in front of the TV. This can go a long way to establishing lifelong, healthy food habits.
- Removing packaged and sugary foods from the diet will eventually break the ‘triggers’ for sweet foods and allow the taste buds to be stimulated by other flavors. You have an endless amount of recipes at your disposal. There is just something about wholesome, good food that is homemade!
- Education is key. Explaining why healthy food is important and what it can do for a growing body is a great motivator for kids and teens. I love when I get to over hear them explaining what you taught them to their friends too!
My last piece of advice is to not underestimate how many foods they want to try. Sometimes their taste buds just need to calm down a bit, and we as parents need to embrace the educational process to make food healthy and fun!