• Julia Axelbaum, RD, CSOWM

Encourage Healthy Eating Habits at Home


It’s very normal for kids to go through stages where they’re a little pickier with food- it’s a healthy part of human development. Humans are biologically programmed to be cautious of trying new foods until they know that those foods are safe to eat. This is especially true of bitter foods, which evolution tells us to naturally avoid since poison has a bitter flavor. Unfortunately, many vegetables also have a bitter taste, and children making a disgusted face, or spitting it out the first time he/she tries a new vegetable is a very normal reaction.


But after a long, stressful day, the last thing a parent wants to do is fight their child to eat some vegetables with dinner. The good news is that getting a picky eater to eat more nutritious food doesn’t have to be such a struggle. By simply making a few changes to your eating routine, you can provide an encouraging environment to help your child become a healthy, happy eater.


1) Don’t make a big deal out of it. If a child sees that refusing food is getting them your attention, they’re going to keep doing it. Refusing food is an easy way for children to gain control and feel independent. Research shows that pressuring your child to eat certain foods can actually increase pickiness. Even though dealing with a picky eater can be frustrating, staying patient and calm is key. Allow your child to decide if or how much they will eat and trust that they will eat if they’re hungry.


2) Let your child build up an appetite. When kids are hungry, they will eat. Try limiting the frequency and quantity of snacks you give your child throughout the day so that they are hungry at mealtimes and more likely to try new foods.


3) Make it fun! One of the best things that you can do with children to expand their interest in food is to get them involved in the food prep. Bring your child along with you to the grocery store and allow them to pick out a few items they would like to try. Let your child help you put together meals and snacks by giving them simple, safe jobs such as washing produce, mixing batter, kneading dough, or arranging food onto plates. Research shows that children who are involved in meal preparation are more likely to consume those foods than those who aren't.


4) Try, try again. Picky eaters often need repeated exposure to new foods before they will try them. Continue offering new foods on different days, at different meals, or in different recipes, even if your child has said no to them before. A child may need to be exposed to new foods more than 10 times before they try it!


5) Be a good role model. Children learn so much about food by watching the eating behaviors of their parents/siblings. Research shows that young children are more likely to accept new foods when others around them are eating the food as well. Try commenting on the healthy foods you enjoy to help direct children’s attention to that food. You can say things like "Look how crunchy this celery is!" or “Isn’t it funny how broccoli looks like a mini tree!?” When a child sees you eating and enjoying foods, it helps them realize that the food is safe to eat, which can make them more willing to try it.


Healthy Cookies to Make With Your Child

Ingredients:

2 mashed bananas

1/2 cup peanut butter

2 cups oats

Chocolate chips (optional)

Instructions:

Place the bananas in a large zip lock bag and have your child mash the bananas through the bag. Then in a big bowl, pour in the oats, banana, peanut butter, and optional chocolate chips. Mix well and form into balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 15 min.


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