Children are born with a blank mind. Everything your child knows about food by the time he/she is at that “picky eater” age, is what you and his other caretakers have shown him. If you eat healthy, real food then that is what your child’s “normal” will be. If your normal is eating out of a box, then that is what your teaching your child to eat. I wish someone had told me that when my daughter was born.
I didn’t start out perfect with my own kids either, so I’m facing the same challenges as many parents out there: my kids see a bag of veggie crackers, they want one. I hand them a raw carrot, and they turn away. Over the past years I’ve come up with several tricks to hide veggies and also offered them undisguised, and slowly but surely they’ve started to like real food.
One of the worst things we ever started with our daughter? Squeezies. You know, those wonderful handy little pouches of fruit & veggie purees? We packed those for snacks when my daughter was 1 and she got so addicted to them, that from there on she no longer wanted to eat actual real fruit. She’s 4 now and she still refuses to eat whole fruit. She said she will try when she’s 10 or maybe 6. I still keep offering it to her. Every day. One day I told her that if she ate bananas, her hair would grow long and beautiful just like Rapunzel’s. The next morning she went to the kitchen, got a banana and took a tiny bite. WOW! And then she threw up. Eating a banana was so repulsive to her that it made her vomit! I eased off the bananas for a while…
So what’s a smart mama to do to get some fresh fruit in her tummy? Hide it. I started out by just chopping apples or peaches really small and mix it in her oatmeal. Then came homemade popsicles from fresh or frozen berries, mangoes, kiwi, etc.
Next I started adding shredded apples and mashed bananas into the pancake batter (those are still a favorite in our house and freezable –> a great quick breakfast or lunchbox add-in). Then I pureed whatever fruit I had on hand and used it in muffin batter. Her favorite now are the purple muffins (mixed berries). She doesn’t like smoothies too much, but she eats fruit puree stirred in yogurt. I’m telling you, she’s a tricky one.
We used similar tricks for vegetables by the way. The girl loves broccoli and cauliflower, but wouldn’t touch anything red or orange for the longest time. Chop it, grate it, roast & puree it. Veggies go in everything! Shredded carrots in meatballs, pureed squash in tomato sauce, veggie nuggets, there are endless possibilities.
I can’t keep sneaking things in forever though and I don’t want to lie about what they’re eating, so I am now offering the fruits and vegetables in recognizable form. It’s not always a hit, in fact I get rejected a lot, but I’m not giving up. I also tell her that her beloved apple sauce is made from apples. I have a feeling that apples are going to be the first “accepted” whole fruit. She is already loving apple chips and even told me to make some more.
Keep offering it. Don’t give up!
It’s been said many times that it takes at least 10-12 tries for your kid to actually taste a new food. And another 15-20 times that they actually start to develop a taste/liking for the new food.
The red peppers she used to make me pick out? She now happily accepts them along with peas, and corn (also previously shunned) in her fried rice.
What’s the biggest point though? Getting your kids to eat real food, not processed, chemical-laden food-like substances (as Michael Pollan calls them in his eye-opening book “In Defense of Food“). I know we’re all busy and stressed and never have enough time for it all, so grabbing a box of Lunchables is quicker and cheaper than making an actual, wholesome lunch for your child. Except that it’s not cheaper, because you may pay for it later in healthcare costs and time lost at doctors’ appointments.
I added an entire glossary of all the food additives and un-pronounceable ingredients here on the blog under the “Resources” tab. What they are, what they’re doing to the food, and what they’re doing to your body. Look for it here.
Look for an ingredient list that is short, and contains only ingredients that you recognize as real food. You’ll be surprised that things like “natural flavors” and “caramel color” are not real food.
Avoid GMO’s as much as possible. What are GMO’s? I set up a whole separate page on this subject under the “resources” tab. In a nutshell: GMO’s are genetically modified organisms that had genes from another species injected into their DNA to make them behave differently. GMO’s are not the same as hybrid plants. Hybridization has been around for hundreds of years and occurs naturally within the same species. Genetic modification may take the genes of a completely different plant or even species (like an insect!) and insert them into the DNA of a plant. That does not happen in nature.
GMO’s are mostly corn, soy, and sugar. And once you start reading ingredient labels, you will see that corn, soy, and sugar is in nearly every prepared/processed food product on your supermarket shelf. The easiest way to avoid GMO’s is to buy organic products, and/or Non-GMO Verified products.
Why are these things especially dangerous for children? Their immune system and natural good bacteria in their gut are not as strong as an adults. They react to additives and modified-food-proteins much sooner. Often with rashes, eczema, asthma, or even full blown food allergies.
Thanks for reading this far. I mean it. Thank you! A lot of parents can’t stand to listen to this anymore because they feel like they’re doing everything wrong, and “how in the world am I going to pay for all this?” Right? I hear ya. Take a deep breath – and take one step at a time. Start with 1 or 2 things. Change those foods that your kids eat the most (and have the biggest impact on their health). Change one thing this week when you buy groceries: eliminate the artificial food colors. Next week start buying whole grain pasta or brown rice. Mix it half and half with the old stuff if you’re met with resistance. Mix in a little bit of roasted, pureed squash in your mac-n-cheese. You get the point: baby steps.
It takes time, but you can do it. As for the cost factor: most stores have excellent store brand organic products that often cost the same (or even less) than the brand name conventional one. Like these oats or the frozen broccoli:
Start eliminating processed foods, one by one.
Involve your kids when you cook. Let them help and see what you’re doing. Get them a little apron maybe.
Buy your produce at a farmers market, so your kids see other places that sell food. Without boxes and cans.
If you can, start a small garden or even just a potted cherry tomato plant. Ask if their school has or could get a school garden.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.