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Q: My four-year-old son is one of the pickiest eaters I have ever met! His diet consists mostly of applesauce, grilled cheese and juice. Any help for a desperate mom?
A: Dearest desperate mom,
I hear your frustration and have witnessed this hair-pulling scenario many times in my own family and in practice. My first advice to you is: Don't panic! The palate and dietary likes and dislikes of a child constantly change. In other words, once a picky eater does not mean your son will always be a picky eater. In terms of your little fusspot, the key is to meet his dietary needs and open him up to other tastes, textures and food options. A four-year-old's nutritional requirements vary according to growth rate, body size and physical activity, however, the average caloric intake ranges from 1,300 to 1,700 kcal/day. Keep in mind that young children have small stomachs yet large energy needs. Feed your children smaller meals at a higher frequency such as three meals and two snacks daily.
As for the fussiness, I do not recommend ending up in a food fight with your little guy as this will only make matters worse. Research shows that with repetitive exposure to a food item, combined with a calm approach by the parent (this is key!), a child will eventually eat a once rejected food. That said, if your child is well nourished, I am a big believer in honouring a few of a child's dietary likes and dislikes. Everybody's palate is different and kids should be able to exercise preferences without consequences each and every time.
At mealtime, offer your child 2-3 healthy options. If they choose not to eat what you have offered them, that is OK, I promise you they will not starve. In a short while you will hear the little pitter-pattering of feet in the kitchen asking for a healthy snack.
Page 1 of 2 – If all else fails and you have to get a little sneaky to get healthy food into your kids, try the following six tips, found on page 2.
6 tips to help you feed your picky eater
1. Purée vegetables into tomato sauce. For example, steam broccoli, add it to a tomato sauce and pour over pasta.
2. Keep cut up healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables accessible in your home. Children also love dipping their own veggies or fruit. Use healthy fruit dips such as hummus, black bean dips or ranch dip.
3. Visit your local health food store and invest in a high quality multi-vitamin for your child. I would love to think that children are getting optimal nutrition from their diets, but these days it is not that realistic. A multi-vitamin should not replace a healthy diet, but will merely be a nutritional safety net.
4. Eliminate all processed flours from your kitchen and substitute them with whole grain foods in the form of bread, pastas and cookies. To identify products that are whole grain, check the ingredient list for the words "whole" or "whole grain" before the name of the grain, such as "whole wheat" or "whole grain oats."
5. If a child skips a meal or doesn't eat a lot, do not force them to eat. Children know when they are hungry and pressuring them to eat will only alter their internal hunger cue. Forcing a child to eat could also lead to overeating or to the development of aversions to some foods.
6. Provide meals and snacks in a quiet, pleasant, distraction-free and safe environment. Serve meals at the table and not while the child is walking around.
Remember, the key is to be patient, calm, consistent and to keep in mind... this too shall pass!
Fantastic fruit dip for the kids
2 whole bananas
1 whole mango
2 tsp. cinnamon
Peel and slice bananas and mango. Place in mixing bowl with cinnamon and blend with a hand blender or in a food processor.
Serve with cut up fruit such as apples, pears, banana pieces, cherries or strawberries. Add grated dark chocolate for additional flavour and sweetness.
Page 2 of 2 – Can you relate to the mother who can't get her child to eat? Learn what to do on page 1.