13 October 2010

Picky eating: it's all about attitude

I was a terribly picky eater when I was young. I still am, to some extent.

When we become parents, we all choose ways to be very unlike our own parents. One of my concious choices in this regard was to work dilligently to NOT raise another  picky eater. My belief is that modelling positive attitudes towards food will go a long way to achieve that goal.

I am certainly no expert in the field, and there is a great difference between "picky eating" and "sensory processing disorders" where kids are unable to tolerate certain food textures.  This is simpy what has worked for our family. Glean from it what you will, and feel free to respectfully disagree as well.

Here are my self-developed rules to that end:

1. Not every food choice is about taste
    Don't pretend that every food you eat, or that you want your kid to eat,  is delicious. Kids are smart and they will know you are lying to them or else think you're completely deranged. Brussel Sprouts are not my favorite food, for instance. I happen to think they're disgusting. But my husband and kid love them, so once in a while they choose them as our green vegetable. I eat them, noting out loud they are not my favorite but that each time I eat them I'm getting more accustomed to the taste and texture. I know they're high in sulforaphane, a powerful anti-cancer agent (just as broccoli is!) and experiencing the unpleasantness of consuming them is far outweighed by their nutritional advantages.


2. Never let food become a battle ground for control issues 
     No matter how you look at it, forcing somebody to eat what they don't want, is a matter of control. Encourage kids to try things by telling them "trying new things is part of growing up" and if they don't like it, remind them "maybe you'll like it more when you are more grown - we will try again sometime."  Tastes change. I hated green beans when I was a kid and avoided them like the plague. As an adult, I ate them to be polite to my hosts and eventually began to enjoy them. Share stories like this with your kids.  It has to be okay for them to not "like" something. When I was a kid, my father figure would become very frustrated about wasted food if we went to a restaurant and I didn't like what I ordered. This left with me a life-long aversion to trying new things, which I continue to overcome.

3. Encourage good choices
     Explain to kids that whole grains and proteins provide you with lasting energy. On occasions when they are in a bad mood or cranky for seemingly no explanation, evaluate what they've eaten recently. One time our kiddo had a complete temper tantrum meltdown in first grade where she even pinched the teacher. Upon examining her food choices that day, we found out it was probably due to a sugar spike. It was "Donuts with Dad" day at school and her breakfast had consisted of one and a half filled chocolate donuts and "juice" which was not real juice at all.  Even at 6 years old, she was able to understand that poor body-fuel choices lead to poor behavior choices at school, and has worked hard to avoid a breakfast full of treats since then.

4. Stock a variety of food
     Have lots and lots of healthy choices around the house, but some treats are okay too. A cup of not-so-sugary cereal or a single poptart can be a wonderful treat if not eaten alone on an empty stomach.  Our kid is welcome to have a serving of gummy worms if she first eats something like peanut butter & celery.

5. KISS - simple food is better food
     I don't believe in becoming a short-order cook for your family, but I think it's okay to make some minor adjustments. Many kids will cringe at any kind of sauce on their food, or "weird green leaves" of spinach.  I dn't have a problem cooking one fancy stuffed chicken or pork chop and fixing the rest rather plain. Fixing an extra of the "fancy" variety sometimes works as well, because it gives kids a choice to at least TRY it. Remember, they're not asking you to go to a lot of trouble cooking for them - they'd rather go through the drive through at McDonalds! Therefore, don't expect appreciation for some complicated meal that they probably will fear.

6. Help kids learn to read labels
    Our first exercise in this was with yogurt. For a time, that was her favorite lunch-time protein. However, if you choose Yoplait Light, it has only 14 grams of sugar in it, whereas Yoplait Whip has a whopping 21! You can still have very yummy Key Lime Pie yogurt without the behavior effects of the sugar.

7. Educate about trans fats, food dyes, HFCS, and processed sugar
     Start with trans fats. These are the "partially hydrogenated" oils that, when we consume them, stay in our arteries as cholesterol for almost ever!  Anything that has any amount of trans fat is not allowed in our house. This eliminates a lot of my favorites, but more and more manufacturers are getting away from using them. Even a lot of fast food restaurants are banning them now. At McDonalds, you can't get beef without trans fats, but KFC no longer uses them. Dairy Queen uses them in EVERYTHING.

8. Calories in/Calories Out
     It's an important part of nutrition and fitness education that we cannot escape. If we eat something high in calories, we will have to move more to burn those calories. Especially fat and sugar calories. I'm not saying  have your kid count calories and keep a WW chart, but they should have general knowledge about it. As you are losing weight, include them on your journey and your philosophy of healthy living. They are our best watchdogs and cheerleaders.

And that's all I have to say about that.


  1. This is a great post! I have admitted more than once that I would go back and change how I fed my boys if I could. I wrote a post ages ago about how I was to blame for their picky eating. http://waistingtimeblog.com/2010/01/28/picky-picky-picky/ I am happy that my son in college is now finally trying new stuff!

  2. Awesome, helpful post! Thanks! I don't agree with every word but it is definitely great "food for thought"!

    Personally, I am a firm believer in "no thank you helpings" even if it's just one bite.

  3. EXCELLENT post, Lanie. And one I really feel passionately about being a mom of 3 and a Family Doc. I try to talk to kids and parents about the importance of varying your food and keeping a healthy diet. My kids know a healthy plate is a colorful plate. I try really hard not to do the, "Clean your plate" thing. It's hard sometimes. But, my kids also know that if they choose not to eat the healthy dinner I've fixed, they won't get the chips or unhealthy snacks later. I think this is an extremely important topic.

  4. okay that was weird I typed a response and it totally left the building not sure if you got it or not.. basically what I said was how much I loved your post... and how correct you are! .. great job.. have a great day and good luck with any obstacles that come your way!

  5. Sometimes picky eating isn't just about attitude. My son has autism so his issues with textures and such are far more prevalent than my own (I have always been a picky eater).
    It certainly is a challenge. My son has shown a willingness to try other things even though he complains ENDLESSLY about it.

  6. Jayne; Thanks for the input. I see a great difference between autism/sensory processing disorders and being picky. I have edited my post to reflect that based on your feedback. Thanks again!

  7. This is an excellent post!! I especially like #5. It is very important to educate our kids about how bad trans fat is and what harm it can do to our bodies.

    It doesn't hurt to remind us adults of these things either!

  8. Love your post today, Lanie. I remember my dad making my brother and I sit at the table for hours because we wouldn't eat our vegatables. I didn't really start liking vegetables until I was 26...now I love most of them. I asked my daughter to just keep trying and eventually she started liking vegetables too.

  9. Hey I found your blog through a shout out from Dr Fatty.

    This is a great post.

    I gave my kids a wide variety of healthy food choices. My daughter loved almost everything healthy from day one. My son on the other hand was the picky eater. They were given the same choices he just had a different set of taste buds. She likes savory and he likes sweet. It wasn't until his late teens that he finally started eating a wider variety of foods. I didn't think it would ever happen!

  10. Great post! My kids are grown-up now, but I have grandkids, and some of them are very picky. I don't think we give them enough credit when it comes to their abililty to understand what their bodies need. My 4-year old granddaughters know why they need to eat protein, foods rich in calcium, etc., because they've been told why. Even at that age, they are interested in how their bodies work. Most of the time they will eat something healthy, even if it is just a couple of bites.

    I'm something of a picky eater too, but I will suffer through the vegetables (most of which I could do without) for reasons of health. I wish the adults in my life had explained the role of nutrition to me when I was a child. It might have saved me a lot of grief. But then--it was so long ago that my parents probably didn't know much about nutrition either. As I said, this is a wonderful post, Lainie!

  11. I like this post. I am lucky in the sense that I don't have picky eaters at all. My 2 oldest sometime complain if I make a new dish, but they will still try it and most of the time they do like it. I have a rule in my house for all children that live there and come over, and that is that they have to take 3 bites of something even if it is something they are sure they don't like. The biggest food battles in my house is my 10 year old always wants to eat everything in sight. I don't force any of them to eat everything, but my 10 year old will eat all of his and then try to eat more. If I would allow it, I am sure he would never stop eating.

  12. Excellent post, Lanie. Loads of good information. I would add only one more thing: stay away from foods marketed as kid foods: kids do not need their own foods (lunchables or Scooby Doo Mac and Cheese come to mind), plus, they are processed foods to the max and loaded with all things from your list: trans fats, food dyes, HFCS, and processed sugar.

  13. What a timely post! We just had a checkup for my 2 year old. He dropped off the charts in weight again. He's become picky all of a sudden where he wants just ONE food per meal or snack (I'm ok with that for now since he likes most all foods) but doesn't know enough words to tell me WHAT food. Now if only the Hubs would be of board - he is offended if a vegetable appears on his plate.

  14. love this post. My kids are fairly unpicky. The one thing they eat that I couldn't stand as a kid is chili...don't know, still don't like it.
    Glad to see you in your stride.
    Good blog.

  15. SOme excellent guidelines. Never received such good advice when i was a youngling. Not that I was completely absent of nutritional advice,my parents did provide some. Veggies, they are the hardest. TO this day my teen agers will avoid them unless directed towards them. I hope they out grow that as I have.

  16. Amazing post! I am not proud to admit that I did not do a good job of teaching healthy eating habits to my daughter, who is now 9, but we are really working on it now, and she's starting to come around. It's not easy if you wait until they're older. Luckily, when my son came along I was determined to do better. He's 3 1/2 years old now, and he often requests salad for breakfast (and doesn't mind if it has no dressing!).


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