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Got a Picky Eater? Don’t Stress

What is it with young children? All of a sudden, they clamp their mouths shut at any new food – or even a food they loved yesterday! This is often described as “picky eating.” It usually peaks at around three years of age and is seen particularly with vegetables (1).

Picky eating is incredibly common among young kids. Our goal as their adult caretakers is for this to be a temporary situation – if only for our own sakes! The good news is that most children do grow out of this difficult phase on their own. What’s more, there are several ways in which parents and caregivers can help. Here’s a list:

  • Don’t make a big deal out of this. Pressuring children to eat is just likely to make them fussier (2). The “Clean Plate Club” or even the “One-Bite Rule” aren’t a good idea. Even if you win the asparagus battle today, the war is more likely to be prolonged. What’s worse, there’s a greater chance that your child will never choose on their own to eat asparagus.
  • Offer healthy foods for every meal or snack. At the same time, make sure there’s at least one food your child likes to eat at mealtime.
  • Let your child play with their food! Let your child dip their food into something healthy like hummus, yogurt, or salsa.
  • Try again next week. And the week after. Sometimes, especially with new foods, it can take up to seventeen times (3) before a child will agree to try the food you’re offering! Shrug, smile, eat the food yourself, and make a happy face and enthusiastic sounds for that food.
  • Speaking of your own enthusiasm, a child is much more likely to want to eat a food that you’re happily eating at the same time (4). Since most children eventually eat what their parents eat, be sure your diet is healthy, too. As much as possible, make mealtime communal and pleasurable – for everyone!

Fortunately, “over the course of a day, week or even a month, children will likely rotate through a variety of food groups to meet their growing needs” (3). Of course, be sure to share your concerns with your child’s pediatrician, especially if mealtime becomes too much of a struggle or if you are concerned that your child is gaining too much or too little weight.

Let me know your thoughts on this. I still have memories of my then 2-year old glaring at me and announcing, seemingly on a daily basis, “I don’t eat this.” She is now an athletic, compassionate, 31-year old vegetarian. Go figure.

By the way, while I, like most experts (3),  am not a fan of “disguising” foods, the following recipe for tomato soup is easy and has added beans for a wonderfully hearty, protein-packed punch. I hope you and your kids like it:

Tomato White Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 5 (or fewer or more) cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 15.5-ounce cans white beans, preferably cannellini (see note 1), liquid included
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes – whole, diced, or crushed (see note 2), liquid included
  • 1 cup stock or water
  • salt & pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Mince the garlic. Place the garlic and olive oil in a large pot (see note 3), and heat over low heat until the garlic is just starting to turn a pale golden color.
  2. Add the tomato paste, and stir for a minute or so.
  3. Add the beans, tomatoes, stock, salt & pepper, and bring to a boil.
  4. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Purée with an immersion blender; or wait until the soup has cooled a bit, and purée it in a regular blender (see note 4).

Note 1: I prefer cannellini beans because they tend to give the silkiest texture.

Note 2: I think San Marzano tomatoes have the most flavor.

Note 3: Burnt garlic is disgusting and ruins any dish. Starting with a cold pan really helps.

Note 4: Immersion blenders are more convenient, but regular blenders give a smoother, frothier texture.

 

References

(1)Emmett PM, Hays NP, Taylor CM. Antecedents of picky eating behaviour in young children. Appetite. 2018;130:163‐173. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.07.032

(2)Harris HA, Fildes A, Mallan KM, Llewellyn CH. Maternal feeding practices and fussy eating in toddlerhood: a discordant twin analysis. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2016 Jul 13;13:81. doi: 10.1186/s12966-016-0408-4. PMID: 27412445; PMCID: PMC4944306.

(3)https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/raising-healthy-eaters-should-kids-clean-their-plate

(4)Gregory JE, Paxton SJ, Brozovic AM. Maternal feeding practices predict fruit and vegetable consumption in young children. Results of a 12-month longitudinal study. Appetite. 2011 Aug;57(1):167-72. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.012. Epub 2011 Apr 29. PMID: 21569809.