Okay. You’ve become that person. You can change a loaded diaper with one hand, make an important business call with the other, and balance a squirming toddler on your hip all at the same time. You’re a mom. It’s what you do.
But there are some challenges that seem to be beyond even a mom’s superpowers. And perhaps the greatest of these is getting your kid to eat their vegetables or try new foods. The good news, though, is that it is possible to help picky eaters overcome their food fears and improve their nutrition. The bad news, however, is that the task only gets tougher as your babies grow older.
Why It Matters
As a mom, there’s nothing more important than ensuring that your child grows up healthy, happy, and strong. You know that proper nutrition plays a vital role in your child’s healthy development.
And yet the battle to get your picky eaters to expand their diets beyond pizza, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese may seem to be an unwinnable one. You may even wonder if the struggle is worthwhile, particularly if this is just a phase that most babies go through.
In reality, however, picky eaters rarely outgrow their food avoidance tendencies. Habits that start young often endure across a lifetime. Not only this, but the repercussions of a lifelong pattern of poor nutrition can be severe and wide-ranging. For instance, proper nutrition doesn’t just impact bone and muscle development. It also plays a key role in overall eye health.
And because poor vision can impact everything from your child’s physical safety to their social development to their academic performance, ensuring that they receive a diet filled with the vitamins and minerals they need for optimum eye health is critical for your child’s overall well-being across the long term.
Assess for Food Sensitivity and Intolerance
If your little one resists certain foods as if you’ve just plopped a poisonous snake on their plate, it may be more than mere distaste at work here. Similarly, if your kid seems legitimately anxious or afraid when asked to sample new foods, there may be a deeper issue involved.
In some cases, picky eating is actually a sign of an underlying food sensitivity or intolerance. Your little one may have experienced distressing symptoms, such as itchy skin, watery eyes, or an upset tummy after eating certain foods and they may have come to associate that food with physical discomfort.
They may even have extrapolated that distressing event to other foods, fearing that any new food they’re not familiar with could lead to the same result.
This is why one of the first things you will want to do when trying to overcome food avoidance in your child is to determine if they have an undiagnosed sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy. Try an elimination diet to help rule out any food sensitivities or allergies.
Once you’re fairly certain that the picky eating isn’t physiological in nature, you can turn to other strategies for getting your kid to dig in and chow down.
Be a Role Model
As a mom, you’re your child’s first and best teacher. So one of the best ways to get your child to eat more nutritiously and be a bit more adventurous with their diet is to model the behavior you want to elicit in them.
Let your child see you chowing down on a plate full of healthy fruits and vegetables. Let them see you relishing a nutritious meal just as you would relish a bowl of ice cream or a hot slice of pizza.
Be Positive and Creative
When it comes to getting your kid to open up to a healthier way of eating, you need to sever the associations that often go along with “healthy” foods. For instance, you don’t want to make the dinner table a battleground between you and your child. Keep mealtimes light, positive, and affirming.
It’s also important to prevent your little one from thinking that healthy foods are always “gross” while “unhealthy” foods are always “yummy.”
And, of course, that’s also going to mean you’re going to do a bit of homework in the kitchen. Explore creative ways to make so-called “junk” foods nutritious and healthy foods tasty. You might, for instance, use cauliflower crust in your homemade pizzas and oats or black beans for your super special brownies. Crafty substitutions such as these can be an ideal way to boost your kid’s nutrition and make “healthy” ingredients seem a little less scary.
Helping your child overcome their food fears isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. So if you have a picky eater in your midst, the first task is to ensure that their resistance isn’t due to a food sensitivity, allergy, or intolerance. Once you’ve ruled out that possibility, then it’s time to model the healthy eating habits you want your child to adopt. And, if all else fails, don’t be afraid to get a bit sneaky and make some creative substitutions in your child’s favorite meals and desserts!
About the Author
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for social activism and the search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.