A Respectful Approach to “Picky” Eaters (with a long-term view)

Originally posted on The Consciously Parenting Blog January 21, 2016.

Tell us a little about your family and what healthy eating means to you.

Our family has been on the path toward healthier eating since 2004. I really see it as a continuum and feel good about each step we make, trying not to get hung up on perfection or doing it all at once.

To me, healthy eating means less processed, more natural. We cook meals and include fresh or whole ingredients as much as possible. We try to limit sugary drinks (including juice) and sweets, and often make healthy alternatives when we want dessert.

However, we also try not to deprive ourselves or our children of something we really want, truly believing that a little bit here and there is okay.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced encouraging healthy eating with your kids?

Did you resolve it or are you still working on it?

When my kids started eating solid foods, I was so proud of the variety they ate. They would eat anything I gave them, from avocado to sweet potato, broccoli, asparagus or meat. But right around two to three-years-old, they suddenly didn’t like many of the foods they had previously eaten without hesitation. I figured it was a phase, like so many of the developmental phases I saw them go through, but this lasted so much longer. They went years insisting that they didn’t like broccoli anymore, and that the only food they really wanted (besides fruit) was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I was so careful in the early months of feeding my kids solids, but like most families I eventually let them have treats, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. I thought I was doing okay, but when they started refusing vegetables, I began to doubt myself, wondering if I’d made a huge mistake.

Look at the week as a whole:

A helpful piece of advice I received at a La Leche League meeting was that we should consider what foods our child ate over the course of a full week instead of worrying about them eating all of the food groups each day. So, I’d put peanut butter on their bananas and apples and sneak veggies into foods they ate and not tell them about it. I regularly made smoothies (which freeze into popsicles) with yogurt and blueberries and lots of spinach and kale. But it was hard to watch friends’ children happily eating their vegetables.

Because we didn’t want to make food a battle, my husband and I modeled eating vegetables and tried to have them on the table most days. We generally trust our kids to know what they need and believe that eventually things will work out, so we translated these parenting ideals to mealtimes during this time.

1. We made a rule that they need to taste one bite of each dish, just to make sure they still don’t like it. We told them that they used to like lots of these foods, but then their tastes changed, and they have no idea when it will change again so they need to keep testing to see.

2. We only cooked one meal and we tried to make sure there was at least one thing on the table they liked, but if they wanted something else, they were welcome to make themselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The kids love to make homemade muffins – low in sugar and easy to add veggies!

Now that I am through this phase that lasted several years, I am so glad I was patient. Just in the past year, both of our kids have been willing to try new things. We are now eating the same thing for dinner most nights and we love to hear them talk about how delicious this or that is, when just months before they swore they hated that food.

Because we didn’t try to control what our children ate, we encouraged our kids to make smart decisions for themselves.

And now –
• My kids have learned that they are in charge of their bodies.
• They know the difference between “growing food” and “sometimes food.”
• They know that if they make unhealthy food choices, there will be consequences in terms of how they feel afterward.

What’s your biggest success with your kids regarding healthy eating?

I feel most proud of times when my kids will turn down unhealthy foods on their own. They are often offered candy or junk food and will usually decline. On the occasion that they accept it, they rarely eat the whole thing. I just feel good that we have instilled in them to listen to their bodies and pay attention to how they feel when they eat things like that. They don’t want to feel bad so they often decline.

When visiting relatives, my kids read nutrition labels and make decisions about what they would like to eat and what they will skip. My son recently told me that he went ahead with the pancake mix but skipped the margarine and was thankful there was real maple syrup and not corn syrup for the pancakes.

I feel proud of my kids, but it’s not because of anything I have done. Now I’m proud that they are able to navigate food choices themselves and to listen to their bodies about what and how much to eat. These are skills that will serve them in the future when I’m not right there to ask.

Could you share a recipe or an idea that’s worked well for your family?

My favorite way to get veggies into my kids is smoothies! I usually make extra and freeze it into popsicles, and they know they can grab a popsicle for a snack anytime they like. Here is my basic smoothie / popsicle recipe.

I also love to cook lots of veggies into spaghetti sauce. Since my kids prefer their sauces blended and not chunky they aren’t bothered by them.




Rebecca Thompson Hitt

Rebecca is the founder of The Consciously Parenting Project, LLC, and author of 3 books (Consciously Parenting: What it really Takes to Raise Emotionally Healthy Families, Creating Connection: Essential Tools for Growing Families through Conception, Birth and Beyond, and Nurturing Connection: What Parents Need to Know about Emotional Expression and Bonding), numerous classes and recordings, and the former co-host of a radio show, True North Parents.

Rebecca Thompson Hitt has 171 posts and counting. See all posts by Rebecca Thompson Hitt

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