Has picky eating taken over your dinner table? Are you, or someone you love, a picky eater? Are you unsure that your family is getting the best nutrition available? Take heart! You can make nutritious, delicious meals that everyone will enjoy!
Betsy Hicks, author of Picky Eating Solutions, offers top ten tips for solving picky eating. Bring the joy of real food back to the table.
1. Be prepared, organized and empowered.
Changing eating habits takes time and patience. You need to be prepared and have a plan that is realistic and practical for your family. Be really clear on your own goals and direction. Celebrate each successful step you take.
Organize your kitchen and make it a happy place to be.
Get rid of unhealthy food that no longer fits into your new health plan.
De-clutter your counter space to make food preparation easier.
Free up valuable space for those items you use regularly by putting appliances you seldom use in low traffic areas.
Eating well is one of the most important steps to being healthy. Reading books on nutrition may motivate you to take action and stick to your goals.
2. Get everyone involved and make a plan together.
If your picky eater is a child, the action plan you create will depend on age and cognitive ability. However, even small children and or children with a significant disability can feel your enthusiasm for making healthy changes.
For very small children, you may wish to create a picture book with pictures of the healthy, delicious food you want them to eat. Additionally, mark the foods that will be eliminated with a red” No” line.
Present your changes positively! Communicate to your family the beneficial reasons for changing their eating habits. Help children to understand that their bones will be strong, their minds alert and their cells happy and powerful because of these changes! Encourage adult picky eaters to make changes for themselves without compulsion or ultimatums. Don’t buy or cook unhealthy food, instead make it convenient and delicious to eat healthy.
3. Make meal planning, preparation and cooking a family activity.
Involving everyone encourages success. Children who help to plan out the weekly meals are more likely to eat them. You can honor family favorites with a little tweaking to healthier versions. For example, macaroni and cheese can undergo a dramatic nutritional transformation when organic farm fresh cheese and milk is used along with whole wheat, rice or spelt pasta.
For the more adventurous, add small organic beef meatballs and fresh, finely, chopped broccoli.
Make grocery shopping a family outing and allow your children to choose a new vegetable to taste. Encourage them to try something that is new to the whole family! If you don’t know much about how to cook or serve it, ask the produce manager for suggestions or go online and do some research. Share your findings around the table. Remind your family members when they aren’t thrilled with what is on the menu that everyone’s turn will come. Express your admiration for their willingness to try new things and be so adventurous. Talk about all the benefits they are getting from eating so well.
4. Eliminate grazing and constant snacking.
Everything tastes better when you are hungry. New foods look more appetizing and the smells coming from the kitchen are more appealing when your body is ready for food. However, many of us never get the full satisfaction from eating a meal when hungry because of constant grazing. Healthy mid-morning and afternoon snacks are important for growing children, and everyone should drink pure water throughout the day. Nibbling and snacking on empty calories is a set up for picky eating at mealtimes. Being “a little hungry” is not the best time to try something new.
5. Work on texture de-sensitization.
Food texture can be a challenge for a picky eater. As a result, kids (of all ages!) may have issues with meat and vegetables. “Hiding” vegetables in easy to eat foods is a wonderful first step tool. Muffins can hide pureed squash and potatoes can cover pureed cauliflower. Gradually move from pureed hidden foods to the wonderful sensation of whole vegetables and other texture rich foods.
6. Playing with food is fun!
Children, play clothes and kitchen floors wash up easily so allow your children to experiment with foods in different ways. Cutting food into shapes or blocks can help familiarize picky eaters to the textures and colors of new foods. Carrot sticks and broccoli spears can “play” with each other and become fast friends with French fries. Organic ketchup, devoid of high fructose corn syrup, appeal to many as a coping “dip” for that first bite. Additionally, melted organic butter, peanut Satay sauces and melted dark chocolate can be enticing counterparts in helping to make unfamiliar meats, vegetables and fruits less strange. Taking the fear out of food is an important step towards helping picky eater expand their dietary horizons.
7. Practice “First This…Then That!”
As picking eating is more about texture than taste, keep the first bites of new foods small and reasonable. For children, the size should be consistent with the size of their pinky nail. Make it an achievable step and use it alongside a motivator. For example, “first the blueberry, then the cookie.” Or, “first the hamburger, then the French-fry. “ Starting out, your main focus and goal is not complete nutrition as much as it is consistent cooperation.
Build up confidence and trust by sticking to your request and not pushing for them to eat more!
8. Graduate to the “Just Three Bites” Club.
Once the picky eater is comfortable with your target food then move along to the “Just Three Bites” rule. Every food served at the table should include a three-bite minimum. In this way a variety of healthy foods become familiar to the palate. Remaining cheerful and consistent is the key to success. Even the pickiest eater when positively motivated can manage three small bites! In time, you may find many of the foods that were considered “gross” being eaten without any fuss and even becoming a favourite.
9. Triangle meals make nutrition complete.
When planning your meals use the nutritional triangle method. Include in each meal, one serving of protein, one of vegetable and one of grain or starch. Remember not to count potatoes or corn as a vegetable as they fit more with grains and starches. Be confident in increasing protein and vegetable quantities as requested, though limit simple carbohydrates to a third of the complete meal. Don’t skip meals especially breakfast, as it is an important foundational step of the nutritional day. Essential Protein is easily achieved even on busy mornings, with a small handful of nuts, organic yogurt, or a delicious protein smoothie.
10. Make dinnertime, happy family time.
Family mealtime is often the first to be compromised when schedules get overly busy. Food becomes a necessity of hunger eaten on the run, rather than a time of nurturing and celebration. When creating new healthier habits at the dinner table be sure and have everyone sit down and eat together.
Positive, shared conversation in a relaxed atmosphere softens the stress of new experiences for the picky eater especially, but also for everyone else. Stay true to your goals in a kind and loving way. Compromise encourages failure. Set a good example by trying new foods yourself and enjoy the adventure of happy, healthy, eating!
Betsy Hicks is the author of Picky Eating Solutions. She is the CEO of Green Health Management and Realistic Health and Wellness in San Francisco, CA. Furthermore, she is an internationally renowned radio host and speaker on a variety of health and wellness topics. Betsy has taught cooking classes around the world. She passionately shares her vast wealth of nutritional knowledge for using fresh, organic, simple whole ingredients to make delicious, nutritious food that everyone can enjoy.