This is part II of our Picky Eaters series. If you missed part I, you can find it here.
The dilemma: Your child eats one or two food colors for an extended period of time. Typically, this includes only beige or white, creamy yellow or orange. Your child’s eating habits center around bread, cheese, pasta, milk, rice, potatoes, and not much else (aside from a few other items your child has deemed to be “safe” to eat).
The MOM nutritional concerns: You are wondering if your child is getting enough vitamins, minerals, fiber, and all the essential nutrients associated with fruits and vegetables. Not to mention, you know all these refined grains and starches are not considered nutritious long-term.
The MOM thoughts: You are tired of “fighting” about food. Meals take a long time to be eaten, and you try really hard to not lose your patience. It’s the end of the day, and you are tired and decide to give in. You figure this picky-eating habit is temporary, and your child will outgrow it.
The problem: You have become a short-order cook. Temporary is becoming what seems like permanent, and you are beginning to feel frustrated. You dread making homemade meals because of the amount of work or planning you have to do. You are also beginning to feel bad, as a parent, that you are not providing your child with the nutrition he should be getting. Deep down, you know that the gummy vitamins are not cutting it.
The result: You only buy foods that your child eats and have stopped fighting it. Occasionally, you consult with your friends to find ways to get your child to eat different foods, but you never try something long enough for it to actually work. You are back to square one.
Let me assure you that if you have a child who seems to be stuck in eating the same items day after day, week after week, you are not alone. The term for what you are going through is called “neophobia”: the fear of trying anything new, including new foods. You might have had an infant who loved food from that 1-year mark, and all of a sudden decided that “no” was his favorite word (around the age of 2). What can you do to help your child get in more nutrition? A few things, actually. Steps that require some work; but consistency is key.
What you can do:
- If your child eats white rice, white pasta, and white bread but not the whole-wheat version, you can try introducing the whole-wheat kind by mixing up the two a little bit at a time. Example: For a 1/4-cup serving of white rice or pasta, substitute 1 to 2 tablespoons of the whole-wheat alternative. For white bread, you can either begin to make white bread at home (where you can add flax and other nutrients without your child noticing, or slowly begin to buy the white-wheat kind, then honey wheat, and eventually, whole-wheat. My friend Mary used to make sandwiches with the top side white bread, and the bottom honey wheat. Try pureeing cauliflower in mashed potatoes. While cauliflower doesn’t have huge nutritional benefits, it does have fiber.
- You have a mac n’ cheese kid who could survive on the blue box forever (I have one of those). The trick is to slowly make the “blue” box creamier, to where you could make your own version of creamy mac n’ cheese. Let’s face it, nothing tastes like the packet in the blue box. However, there are simple things you can do to add nutrition to the blue box. Steam and puree/blend/mash 1/4 to 1/2 cup of orange squash or carrots. Add these to the blue box. Need step-by-step instructions? Take a look here.
- Peer pressure: Nothing like a little friendly competition to get your child to eat. Invite a friend who eats “x” for dinner every day for a week. By day four or five, your child might just see that it’s “normal” to eat certain foods.
- Mirror: If you expect your child to eat broccoli, but you never have it on your plate, it’s not going to happen. You must show them how delicious something is by actually eating it yourself.
- In tomato sauce, you can hide just about anything that’s good for them. Add cooked vegetables and blend away. Make sure you don’t add too much, or you’ll make the sauce a very unappealing brown color.
- Does your child eat pesto? Make broccoli pesto!
- Don’t go overboard. Offer just a little of something with color. Parents often make the mistake of filling the plate with too many items your child is weary of. Pair a “safe” food with a new one.
- Serve new things in a small dish so it doesn’t seem like a big quantity.
- Sneak vegetables into brownies. SERIOUSLY. You can try out my sneaky brownies here. They are made with spinach and blueberries.
- Are your kids color picky but LOVE waffles? We serve rainbow waffles at my house. Purple have blueberries, pink have beets, orange are made with pumpkin, green have spinach, yellow ones have mangoes.
- Get a color chart like the one from Today I Ate a Rainbow. Play a game with your child to see how many things they can eat of different colors each day, and reward, praise, and praise some more.
Above all, don’t get discouraged. It will take some time and effort. If you are anything like me, you’ve lost your patience a few times. Don’t worry. It’s a slow process but one that is rewarding when small milestones are achieved.