We by now know that the “rules” and practices of kids nutrition are shifting. My son, for example, is not allowed to bring juice, chocolates and sweets to school as part of his school lunch, and can only take a “sweet treat” in on a Friday. His tuckshop serves no juice, sweets or chocolate either.
Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign has seen the transformation of US school cafeteria menus that they have now cut calories and “unhealthy” snacks. Gone are doughnuts and fries, and in are salad bars and fruit along with other healthy meals for kids.
Jamie Oliver has long been championing the kids nutrition cause – changing lunch menus, educating and encouraging vegetable gardens instead of pies and chips at school.
And while I appreciate these shifts, what does one do when your kid is a picky eater, and the only thing they want in their school lunch is chips or chocolate?
Abby Courtenay (who is also my dietitian and is teaching me how to not eat when I’m happy/sad/stressed/nervous/bored) has some tips for parents of picky eaters, and also has website The Family Kitchen, which is an amazing resource for parents.
- Feeding on demand is impractical. Toddlers often do not realise that they are hungry until all hell breaks loose and older children can easily pretend to be hungry when it suits them (for example, as you hit the devilishly taunting ‘check out’ aisle at your local grocery shop). Plan meal times and snacks, children do well with routine.
- Make small changes, if your child enjoys dipping his food, experiment with different dips? Introduce something nutritious like hummus or bean dip for a nutrient boost.
- Make meal times fun, allow your child to assist with preparations (under supervision). Faces and shapes can easily be made up from healthy food items.
- Allow your child to dish up/ feed himself at meal times. This will take some of the control out of your hands, but will give them the autonomy he craves.
- Eat together as a family, children love watching their parents and older siblings try new foods. They think you’re great and so watching you a few times helps them feel less daunted by the task of eating a new food.
- Some flavours are overpowering, especially to children, remember how you tried a new food with them 15- 20 times when they were babies? This rule also applies here. Most foods will be accepted over time. Try to make vegetables attractive and available to your kids. Your main aim should not be to get your child to eat vegetables, but rather to get them to enjoy them…
- Accept defeat. If your child loves yogurt, but refuses point blank (after numerous exposures) to eat cheese, accept it and move on. They should be eating from all food groups (dairy, meats, starches and fruits/ vegetables), not necessarily specific food items. Don’t sweat the small stuff!
- Never use food as a reward. It has been shown that this strategy not only decreases their preference for the foods they are ‘made’ to eat (usually the healthier foods) but increases preference for the ‘reward’ foods.
At around the age of 6, children begin to expand their palates; picky eating problems may not instantly disappear… But many experts agree that it does seem to get better. *Please note: If you think your child may be suffering from selective eating disorder, please contact your doctor and dietician.