One challenge we've been hearing about from parents lately is how to handle an older picky-eating kid who wants to make their own eating decisions and hasn't yet outgrown their finicky phase.
Here at Peas, we've found that our Veggie Wedgies and Pizza help parents with kids of all ages (and even adults themselves!) eat more veggies, but we were curious to learn more about these older picky-eaters and how to encourage them to eat more healthfully and adventurously.
We hooked up with Melanie R. Silverman, a Registered Dietitian who specializes in pediatric nutritional care, for her thoughts on the topic. Here's what she had to say:
"I think the best nutrition recommendation I give to my families is to eat a wide variety of foods. I cannot point to a single supplement, powder or pill that proves to provide all necessary nutrients our bodies need. So what do you do when your ten year old child will eat six foods and none of them involve a vegetable?
Ah...the good ol’ times. Remember when that ten year old was ten months old and ate everything you offered? Your steamed vegetables went down as fast as fruits or desserts did. So what happened? If your situation is like many families, the change came around eighteen months when kids strive for independence. Kids this age cannot choose what they wear, when they sleep or where they go, but they can choose how much they eat and if they eat at all. Panic sets in with parents when children this age begin skipping meals and snacks. Frustrated and worried, parents start to give their kids what they know their kids will eat. These actions support picky eating and can persist for years.
So what do you do if its ten years later and you have a picky eater on your hands? First, stop talking about it. Chances are, out of love and concern, you make comments to your son or daughter about his or her pickiness hoping they will spontaneously ask you to roast Brussels sprouts and grill salmon for dinner. Keep quiet; they do not want to hear about it anymore. Second, you can surely give them a multivitamin for nutritional insurance, but I want them to learn to eat a variety of food, not take supplements. Prepare to make changes in how and what you feed your children. Here are three ways to get started:
- Eat as many meals as a family as possible. In my experience, people underestimate the value of family meals as a tool to expand their child’s repertoire of foods. Family meals can expose children to a great array of foods and since you are not discussing their picky habits anymore, they may be more inclined to try new foods on their own.
- Plan strategic meals. I am not asking you to serve tofu, chickpeas and kale for dinner. What I am asking you to do is extrapolate in your meal planning. Think about what your child will eat and build your menus from there. For example, if your child is a white bread-lover, by all means, offer bread. Offer rosemary olive, asiago cheese or pumpernickel bread with olive oil for dipping and see what happens.
- Eat out. Try different restaurants like Indian, Sushi or Thai. If you child likes Italian prepared pasta dishes, Pad Thai is an option.
If parents begin with the changes I describe above, over time something will likely kick in with these kids and they will try new foods. If you start to notice your child trying and enjoying new foods, do not make a big deal about it in front of him or her. Go with the flow and take comfort in the fact that you did some great parenting to get your son or daughter to this point."
Melanie R. Silverman MS, RD, IBCLC is pediatric registered dietitian and lactation consultant in Laguna Beach, California. You can learn more about her private practice at www.feedingphilosophies.com and what her feeding philosophies are at blog.feedingphilosophies.com
Thanks for sharing your expertise with our readers, Melanie!