We by now know that the "rules" and practices of kids nutrition are shifting. My son, for example, is not allowed to bring juice, chocolates and sweets to school as part of his school lunch, and can only take a "sweet treat" in on a Friday. His tuckshop serves no juice, sweets or chocolate either.
Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign has a website with tips and guidelines for better kids nutrition, exercise and healthful lifestyles. The campaign has also seen the transformation of US school cafeteria menus that have cut calories and "unhealthy" snacks. Gone are doughnuts and fries, and in are salad bars and fruit.
Jamie Oliver has long been championing the kids nutrition cause – changing lunch menus, educating, and encouraging vegetable gardens instead of pies and chips at school.
And while I appreciate these shifts, what does one do when your kid is a picky eater, and the only thing they want in their school lunch is chips or chocolate? I'm no expert, and I fortunately have a son who favours carrots over cookies, so I got some tips from Abby Courtenay (who is also my dietitian and is teaching me how to not eat when I'm happy/sad/stressed/nervous/bored). Abby has a strong interest in kids nutrition, and has a website The Family Kitchen, which is an amazing resource for moms.
Abby has this advice for parents of picky eaters, and there are some great tips here even if your child isn't that picky:
‘Grazing’ on energy dense snacks (like chips or sweets) and juices/ cold drinks fills them up between meals and so they are less likely to be hungry at designated snack or meal times. It may make you feel better; that ‘At least they are getting in something…’ but in truth their stomach capacity is very small (about the size of their closed fist) and so they fill up very quickly.
● Feeding on demand is impractical. Toddlers often do not realise that they are hungry until all hell breaks loose and older children can easily pretend to be hungry when it suits them (for example, as you hit the devilishly taunting ‘check out’ aisle at your local grocery shop). Plan meal times and snacks, children do well with routine.
● Make small changes, if your child enjoys dipping his food, experiment with different dips? Introduce something nutritious like hummus or bean dip for a nutrient dense boost.
● Make meal times fun, allow your child to assist with preparations (under supervision). Faces and shapes can easily be made up from healthy food items (see our latest Chefy for some inspiration!)
● Allow your child to dish up/ feed himself at meal times. This will take some of the control out of your hands, but will give them the autonomy he craves.
● Eat together as a family, children love watching their parents and older siblings try new foods. They think you’re great and so watching you a few times helps them feel less daunted by the task of eating a new food.
● Some flavours are overpowering, especially to children, remember how you tried a new food with them 15- 20 times when they were babies? This rule also applies here. Most foods will be accepted over time. Try to make vegetables attractive and available to your kids. Your main aim should not be to get your child to eat vegetables, but rather to get them to enjoy them…
● Accept defeat. If your child loves yogurt, but refuses point blank (after numerous exposures) to eat cheese, accept it and move on. They should be eating from all food groups (dairy, meats, starches and fruits/ vegetables), not necessarily specific food items. Don’t sweat the small stuff!
● Never use food as a reward. It has been shown that this strategy not only decreases their preference for the foods they are ‘made’ to eat (usually the healthier foods) but increases preference for the ‘reward’ foods.
At around the age of 6, children begin to expand their palates; picky eating problems may not instantly disappear… But many experts agree that it does seem to get better. New challenges will arise for you and your child when he goes to school (mainly due to peer pressure, but this will be discussed in a future blog). In the meantime enjoy the gastronomic adventure that awaits you and your little one! *Please note: If you think your child may be suffering from selective eating disorder, please contact your doctor and dietician for individualised help.