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Food Variety for Picky Eaters

July 30, 2019

Mealtimes never used to be complicated or difficult; your little one would eat a little of everything with no complaints… until one day, for no apparent reason your toddler decides nothing tastes good anymore. Your child only seems to tolerate a new diet of chicken nuggets, fries, butter pasta or white roast. You shudder at the thought that your child is doomed to a lifetime of beige-white foods. But things can change! Here are some pointers to mix up your child’s diet, no matter how picky they are.

Parent-Child Responsibilities

First off, it’s important to understand that both parents and children have responsibilities when it comes to nutrition. Many eating difficulties with children stem from failure to respect these parent-child responsibilities.

Parent’s Responsibilities

Child’s Responsibility

Meal (choosing the foods, assistance, etc.)

Quantity (respect hunger and feeling of satiety)

Time of day

Place (living room, dining table, counter, etc.)

 

Many picky eaters’ parents are tempted to cede one of their responsibilities (the meal) to their children, because they have the (very rational) fear that they’ll stop eating. So they prefer their child eats something they like, regardless of poor nutrition value and variety, rather than not eat at all. But that kind of habit teaches children that they don’t have to try, make an effort, or taste anything. It can therefore be difficult for them to understand why they should try new aliments when they’ve gotten used to gobbling down whatever they want.

Parental Role

One way to ensure the diversity of your child’s diet is to regain (or maintain) parental responsibility regarding the choice of meals. This step is not easy, because as mentioned earlier, your child is used to always having the choice. But it’s important that the parent, and not the child, decides what will be eaten. Expect crying fits, difficult meals and tantrums if you decide to regain control over what your child eats and eliminate nuggets and other favourites.

Letting children participate in meal planning for the week (e.g.: pick 1 dinner) can help tone down these negative emotions. This way, they’ll feel their tastes and preferences are being respected, which will encourage them to be more open-minded to other options. Don’t worry, children never starve themselves. Once they realize they cannot manipulate others and have everything they want, they’ll be faced with two choices: eat because they’re hungry, or don’t eat and go to bed on an empty stomach. Your child might try to test your perseverance the first day and refuse to eat, but rest assured that overtime children understand they have to accept what they’re served, otherwise there won’t be any alternatives. You must persevere, maintain this behaviour and not cave in so your little picky eater doesn’t lose what’s been acquired.

Participation of the Child

Once responsibilities are re-established and maintained, another great way to diversify children’s diet is to have them participate. As mentioned, they can choose one meal or snack recipe for the week—but it doesn’t stop there. A child who helps out in the kitchen is more prone to taking a bite out of the preparation than one who doesn’t participate! So, this is a great opportunity to delegate more responsibilities to your little cook. Depending on how old the child is, he or she can measure, chop, grate, cut. They can also use the microwave or even the stove with adult supervision. You should be aware that a child in the kitchen might require additional attention and supervision, so expect the preparation to take a little longer. However, not only will you open up your child to different foods, but you will also pass on important culinary skills.  

Food Chaining

Another approach used to increase food variety is called “food chaining.” With this method, parents make a list of their child’s favourite foods and find variations so the new ones are gradually accepted. The following chart presents two scenarios with a food the child loves and a food the parent wishes to incorporate.

 

Example 1

Example 2

Food Liked

Mac 'n' cheese

Chicken nuggets

New Food

Broccoli

Fish

Stage 1

Store-bought mac 'n' cheese

Store-bought nuggets

Stage 2

Homemade mac 'n' cheese with pieces of broccoli (gradually increase the quantity of vegetables and reduce the quantity of pasta)

Homemade lightly breaded chicken nuggets

Stage 3

Steamed broccoli with cheese

Homemade lightly breaded fish nuggets

Stage 4

Broccoli

Lightly crusted fish  

 

The success of food chaining resides in patience and perseverance; it is usually recommended to introduce only 1 to 2 new foods per week and it can take some time to come up with variations. But this approach helps increase the variety of your child’s diet and allows him or her to experience the real taste of aliments rather than it be hidden. You can start by listing your child’s 10 favourite foods and see which textures, shapes or flavours are preferred to create variations that could help introduce new foods.

In Conclusion

To diversify a child’s diet, parents must first regain their responsibility, include the child in the process and ideally opt for variations of a food the child likes to gradually incorporate new aliments. Parents can be tempted to hide or conceal the new foods inside a meal, but this doesn’t allow the child to see, smell and taste the new food—it’s important that he or she be exposed to it. It can take up to 10 to 15 attempts before the food is appreciated; parents must therefore be patient and persevere when trying to increase the variety of food their child eats. But rest assured, these efforts will be richly rewarded!

Good luck!

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