Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Parenting Your Picky Eater

Connie Liakos, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
March 03, 2015 03:35PM

I'm Blogging National Nutrition Month
This month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates March as National Nutrition Month® and the 75,000+ dietitian members would like to remind us all to “bite into a healthy lifestyle.”

I often spend time with families who are at wit’s end when it comes to persuading their children to bite into healthy foods (or sometimes, bite into almost any food!). They have tried getting healthy foods into young bodies by sneaking and hiding, blending and disguising, begging, pleading, and sometimes forcing, all to little avail.

My first piece of advice is to ask parents to take a deep breath and relax. Developing healthy eating habits takes time, patience and persistence. So-called picky eating behavior is actually a perfectly normal phase of development at certain ages and stages. For instance, as infants turn into toddlers, they become more autonomous and their growth rate – as well as their appetite – tapers off. As a result, between the ages of 18 months - 3 years, it's normal for children to say "no" to many new foods. Below are a few of my tips for successfully parenting the picky eater.

  • Honor parent-child boundaries as it applies to eating. Offer varied and well-balanced meals and snacks but don't force or pressure your child to eat a specified amount, "take just a bite," or produce a "clean plate."  Respect your child's ability to determine when he or she has had enough to eat.  By teaching your child to self-regulate food intake, your child will ultimately develop varied and healthy eating habits.
  • Avoid catering to your picky eater by making special orders, allowing constant grazing or forcing the family to eat just a few meals. When parents try too hard to please everyone’s palate, the result can be a boring rotation of five or so “common denominator meals.” One strategy that often works is to serve a variety of main dishes but set several easy side dishes on the table such as whole grain rolls or bread, a bowl of fresh-cut veggies, cut-up fruit, baked beans, or salad topped with cheese. That way, if a child refuses the main dish, they can build a meal from the available side dishes.
  • One of the best ways to instill good habits is to role model healthy eating habits. Children learn more by watching what we do rather than what we say. Even though we all have foods we don’t particularly enjoy, avoid making disparaging comments about a food that you dislike.
  • An often overlooked factor in getting kids to try new foods is the taste factor. I tell parents it’s OK to add butter or oil to hot vegetables or allow kids to dip raw veggies in ranch dip, salsa or even a bit of ketchup. Of course, I prefer that kids experience more nutrient-dense dips so I’ve included a few of my favorite kid-friendly dip recipes below. Not only do dips add flavor and interest to fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they are also fun for kids to make and eat.

And yes, it’s true – kids may lick the dip off the same carrot over and over again (and may ultimately skip the carrot altogether). But perhaps after 10 or 15 times, they may actually take a bite! As I said earlier, the development of healthy eating habits takes time, patience and persistence. So, relax and enjoy the journey, one healthy bite at a time.

Peanut Butter Hummus
You can make this recipe in a blender or food processor but it’s more fun for kids if they get to smash the beans and mix by hand.
1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp natural creamy peanut butter*
2 tbsp olive oil
fresh lemon juice (squeezed from 1 fresh lemon)
1/3 cup water
1 tsp garlic powder
*If a child has a peanut allergy, substitute tahini (sesame paste) for the peanut butter.

Directions:
Place the garbanzo beans in the bottom of a large non-breakable mixing bowl. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl. Begin mashing the beans using the potato masher. If making the recipe with children, allow each child to take a turn mashing the beans.  Gradually add the remaining ingredients and continue to mash until the mixture is blended and smooth. Serve with a colorful assortment of raw vegetables and whole grain crackers.
Servings: 10 (approx. 1/4 cup each)
Nutritional information per ¼ cup serving: 118 calories, 4 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fat, 2 grams fiber, 137 milligrams sodium

A-B-C Dip (Avocados, Beans, Cilantro)
Invite your child into the kitchen to help squeeze the lemon and mash the avocado. When children help, they are more likely to try a bite.
4-5 avocados, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 T. fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1-15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Salt to taste (optional)

Directions:
Place avocados, onions, garlic and lime juice into a bowl and mash until slightly lumpy. Stir in tomatoes, beans, and cilantro. If desired, add salt to taste. Serve with a colorful assortment of raw vegetables and whole corn tortilla chips.
Servings: 14 (approx. 1/4 cup each)
Nutritional information per ¼ cup serving: 127 calories, 3 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fat, 6 grams fiber, 60 milligrams sodium (if made without salt)

Fabulous Fruit Salsa
Sweet, tangy and spicy all at once, this fresh fruit-based salsa is a tasty way to pack in vital nutrients and antioxidants.
1 medium mango, peeled, seeded and cut into ½” cubes
½ cup diced fresh apple
1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into ½” cubes
1 large tomato, chopped
½ cup diced bell pepper
½ cup diced sweet onion
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 T. lime juice
½ tsp. garlic salt
¼ tsp. ground cumin

Directions:
In medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Serve with baked whole corn tortilla chips or use as a topping for grilled chicken or fish.
Yield: 4 cups
Servings: 8 (about ½ cup each)
Nutritional Information Per ½ cup serving: 42 calories, 1 gram protein, 11 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fat; 2 g fiber, 132 milligrams sodium