Kari Burghardt, a Chandler, Arizona-based mother of two young children and author of “Diet Makeover for Moms,” realized early on that her son was a very picky eater. She recalls when he was young that she could count on one hand the number of foods he would eat. “We realized that we were going to need to put some effort into helping him explore new foods. We had to make it fun and take the pressure off of him,” she says. Once she and her husband learned to embrace the fact that he was a picky eater, it became less stressful for all of them. She encourages parents with picky eaters to be patient and stay committed.
Here are five strategies to help kids become more adventurous eaters:
1. Introduce New Foods Several Times
Kids naturally reject many foods the first time they are exposed to them. It’s important to give them time and space to try food on their own. “Research shows pressuring kids to eat has the opposite effect in that it decreases appetite and makes kids less interested in the target food,” says Maryann Jacobson, a San Diego, California-based Dietician and author of What to Cook for Dinner with Kids and From Picky to Powerful. According to Jacobson, a 2002 study titled “You Will Eat All of That” published in “Appetite” showed that 70 percent of college students who remembered being forced to eat certain foods as children report that they now avoid those very same foods. When kids grow up and finally have some choice in the matter, they are more likely to make the choice in the opposite direction. Jacobson recommends staying consistent with introducing foods often and allowing kids to move along food acceptance as they feel comfortable.
2. Make it Fun
Kids love to have fun, and eating meals and snacks is no exception. To better enjoy meals, Melanie Potock, a Boulder, Colorado-based pediatric speech language pathologist, feeding specialist, and co-author of Raising a Happy Healthy Eater suggests beginning meals with a song. Preschools do this all the time when transitioning to a new activity, such a snack or circle time. Try playing “On Top of Spaghetti” as you sit down at the table for pasta night, for example. Set a positive tone for the rest of the meal with music.
3. Don’t Cook to Order
Parents can easily fall into the trap of making several different meals for each family member every night and that’s something to try and avoid. Cook one meal that everyone can enjoy. Make an effort to include at least one thing that is liked by the children and encourage them to try the others.
4. Grow Your Own
According to Stephanie Merchant, a food and lifestyle expert and founder of The Nutrition Mom (TheNutritionMom.com
), parents can empower and encourage kids to become more adventurous eaters by having them grow or pick their own. “You don't have to have a garden, although that’s fantastic if you do, to grow your own food,” says Merchant. “For children to actually witness the growth of new food simply from seeds or food scraps is amazing and something that they will remember. It is a huge bonus for kids to understand where real food comes from and to experience the tender love and care that goes into growing food.”
5. Serve It Up Family Style
Dr. Katherine Hiller, an associate professor of emergency medicine at The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, shares that, “Allowing children to serve themselves increases the percentage of food consumed (i.e. if they put it on their own plate, they're more likely to eat it).” As a mom, she uses the strategy of serving things family style and allowing her children to dish up their own food to encourage them to eat and try different foods.
Remember that children are little and they are growing and learning every day. It may take some time, but consistent efforts to encourage children to try new things pays off in the end. Additionally, don’t forget to role-model healthy adventurous eating habits. Kids are likely to take cues from their parents and other influential adults in their lives and mimic those as they grow up.
7 Simple Ways To Improve Your Diet
1. Increase Veggies
Veggies contain essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for a healthy body and they are typically low in calories. Aim to add a serving of veggies to each meal or make one meal per day a large colorful salad topped with lean protein. Pick dark colored veggies for optimal nutrient benefits.
2. Don't Eat Kids’ Leftovers
Make a rule for yourself that you will not pick at leftovers. Young kids often only eat until they’re full and leave some behind. Don’t feel like you need to finish it!
3. Reduce Sugar Intake
Excess sugar can have negative physical and mental effects on an individual. The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages people to eat 5 percent or less of their total calories in sugar. That’s approximately 25 grams a day for an adult with a normal body mass index. Avoid items such as sweetened beverages, candy, cookies, and sugary cereals to decrease sugar consumption.
4. Pack Your Meals
When it comes to meals, think of the ways for which children are cared, especially babies. Parents and caregivers always have something on-hand for them when they get hungry. Treat yourself the same way and carry a cooler filled with snacks and meals for your day when you leave home.
5. Increase Your Fiber Intake
According to the American Heart Association, swapping out refined grains for whole grains can help increase fiber consumption. Include whole grains such as oats, brown rice, barley, and whole wheat bread in your diet.
6. Drink More Water
Consuming water is not only great for your body, it can also detour you from consuming beverages with excess calories and sugar. Aim to get at least half an ounce of water per pound of your body weight daily.
7. Pay Attention to Portions
It’s easy to get carried away and eat more than necessary. To combat that, pre-package single-serving size snacks ahead of time and reach for those when hungry. Also, choose smaller plates on which to serve meals.
Family Friendly Clean-Eating Recipes
Tempted to get take-out? Cooking at home guarantees you will know exactly what is in your family’s food and it doesn’t necessarily require hours in the kitchen. These family friendly recipes can be created quickly and pack a nutritious punch.
BBQ Meatloaf Muffins with Sweet Potato Mash Topping
A classic comfort food recipe for the whole family to enjoy! These BBQ Meatloaf
Muffins with Sweet Potato Mash Topping
are as tasty as they are cute. Serve with veggies for a deliciously balanced meal!
• 1 lb. ground beef
• 1 tsp coconut oil
• 1 small onion, minced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• ¼ cup organic barbecue sauce
• ½ tsp sea salt
• ¼ tsp black pepper
• ½ tsp dried thyme
• 2 med. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
• 1 Tbs butter or coconut oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place ground beef in a medium bowl and set aside. Melt 1 tsp coconut oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften. Add garlic, cook 30 seconds or until fragrant.
Add onion-garlic mixture to ground beef. Add barbecue sauce, sea salt, pepper, and dried thyme. Using your hands or a spoon, mix well to combine. Divide meat mixture evenly among 8 wells of a muffin pan.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until meat is no longer pink in the center. While meatloaves are baking, steam sweet potatoes until tender. Drain and puree in a food processor, or mash well with a fork. Add butter or coconut oil and stir to combine.
Scoop topping onto meatloaves or fill a plastic zip-top with topping, trim the corner of the bag with a scissors and pipe topping onto meatloaves. Drizzle with additional barbecue sauce, if desired.
Strawberry Blender Muffins
Kids always enjoy cooking with kitchen appliances. For this recipe, have them help gather and measure ingredients and place them in the blender. Cooks in only 20 minutes and extra muffins can be stored in the freezer to eat at a later date.
• 1 cup natural peanut butter
• 2 eggs
• 2 ripe bananas
• ½ tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 2 Tbs honey
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1 cup strawberries, diced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Blend all ingredients EXCEPT strawberries until smooth. Stir diced strawberries into the batter before pouring into greased muffin tin. Bake about 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Keep refrigerated up to a week or freeze.
Chocolate Chip Almond Bites
This is an easy no-bake recipe moms can cook with their children and enjoy. Chocolate chip almond bites only take a few minutes to prepare, are made with healthy ingredients, and are an excellent option to satisfy a sweet tooth.
• 6 Tbs gluten free rolled oats
• 4 Tbs all-natural almond butter
• 2 Tbs mini dark chocolate chips
• 2 tsp flax seed
• 2 tsp honey
• 1 Tbs water
• 2 Tbs low-sugar Craisins (optional)
Place all ingredients in a bowl and kneed together with hands until thoroughly mixed. Roll mixture into small bite size balls and place on a parchment paper lined platter. Place balls in refrigerator for approximately one hour, then enjoy.
Recipe created by Kim Miller and Shannon Dougherty, Co-Owners, FitMomDiet.com; Photo by Stephanie Heymann