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Monday, April 23, 2012

Picky Eaters & the Great Food Battle

When my four-year-old was a baby, I made all of his food and he ate a full spectrum of produce, beans, and grains. Kale with sweet potatoes? No problem. Lentils, barley, and cauliflower? More, please. Apples, rice, and broccoli? Keep it coming.

Now his diet consists of bananas, dry pancakes, string cheese, PB&J, and a variety of crackers. That's all. Day in, day out. No variation will be tolerated. He won't even try ice cream, so it's not just healthy foods.

Is it my fault? Where did I go wrong? I'm not sure because I did everything the same with my two-year-old and he happily gobbles up black bean soup, sweet potato curry, and teriyaki stir-fry. Really, he'll eat just about anything on the table. So I don't think it's me.

The Challenges of a Picky Eater

Feeding a picky eater comes with logistical issues. We bring our own food to restaurants (I often just say he has food allergies so they don't give me a hard time), I pack a lunch when he goes to play dates, even family parties require that we bring a cooler bag. We cannot leave the house without preparing food first. I have visions of sending batches of pancakes, along with jars of SunButter and strawberry jelly, to my older son while he is in college. Ugh.

Overcoming the Pickiness (A.K.A. We're Not Above Bribery)

So, what do you do with a picky eater? We're approaching it with some desensitization, just like a fear of spiders. We put a few foods on his dish at each meal (a couple of grapes, a few noodles, etc.) and he doesn't have to eat them, but he needs to keep them on his plate the whole time. And before he leaves the table, he has to touch and smell each new item. If the glorious day arrives when he pops a blueberry into his mouth, we have a prize bag reserved just for trying new foods. Also, he will earn 5 stickers on his chart for each new food.

Testing the Wisdom of Others

Some have encouraged us to deliver an ultimatum: eat what we're eating, or don't eat at all. We tried this and he went without dinner for a week. During that week, he was not allowed any snack foods either. He didn't cave, and an article I recently read revealed that we may have been causing him anxiety about the food which was counterproductive and resulted in a loss of appetite. Awesome.

We've also heard, "Just ignore it. He'll eat when he's ready." Yeah, it's been four years. I don't think this one works.

Still others have told us that involving him in the process will result in him eating more foods. Well, my son loves grocery shopping and picking out produce, but he won't eat what we've brought home. He also loves to cook with me - he helps get out the ingredients, measure, pour, and mix. He has his own apron and chef's hat! Does he eat what we make? Only if we're making chocolate chip or snickerdoodle cookies. Last summer, we even went blueberry picking. He did such a great job picking the dark blue ones, leaving the green ones on the stems; he filled a whole bucket. We brought them home and he helped make blueberry muffins, but would not take a single bite.

This spring we're working on a small vegetable garden. We've already sprouted some tomatoes and peppers; we're just waiting for this weather to figure itself out (snow in April? Really?!?) before we transplant them, and plant some basil, carrots, and pumpkins. He's really excited about the entire process, but I have a feeling that he won't be enjoying any of our harvest. I hope I'm wrong, but, well, we'll see.

Another popular approach is to sneak in the good stuff. I bought The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapin and I like the premise, but those recipes really don't work on my son. I had to adapt them to the foods he will tolerate. My fellow ROCmomma has a similar book, Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld, and it's basically the same deal. So...


ROCmomma's Simple Steps to Sneaking Healthy Foods in to a Picky Eater's Diet

1. Make a list of all the foods your picky eater will actually consume
2. Make a list of the foods that are missing: green veggies, orange veggies, white veggies, fresh fruit, protein, dairy, grains, etc.
3. Try to match up a "missing food" with an accepted food in your child's diet

Here are some examples:

  • Pancakes - add pureed green veggies to the batter, along with an extra egg for protein
  • PB&J - add powdered multi-vitamins to the jelly and mix right on the bread
  • Muffins - add pureed orange veggies plus tofu to the batter (CONFESSION: my four-year-old used to eat these daily; he now says they're for babies but my two-year-old eats them)
Now, whenever I have leftover veggies, I puree them and keep them in small containers in the freezer. Around every 4-6 weeks, I puree a big batch of veggies and freeze them too. Keeping the small portions handy makes it easy to sneak in some veggies more often.

Green Veggies

In a large microwavable container, cook 6-7 cups of your favorite greens (i.e., baby spinach, broccoli, and fresh peas), with about 1 inch of water, for 10 minutes on high. Transfer veggies to a blender or food processor using a slotted spoon, and puree until smooth. Store 1/3-cup portions in freezer-safe containers.

You can do the same with your favorite white veggies (i.e., zucchini, cauliflower, potatoes, parsnips, etc.).

Orange Veggies

In a medium pot, cover 4-6 cups of your favorite chopped orange veggies (i.e., carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash) with water and boil for about 20 minutes. Transfer veggies to a blender or food processor using a slotted spoon, and puree until smooth. Store 1/3-cup portions in freezer-safe containers.

Pancake Recipe

1 c. Heart Smart Bisquick Mix
1 c. Multigrain Pancake Mix
1 1/4 c. skim milk
2 eggs
1/3 c. Green Puree
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl. Pour <1/4-cupfuls onto hot greased griddle. Cook approximately 2 minutes per side. Cool all extra pancakes and store in freezer-safe containers in the freezer. Move pancakes from freezer to fridge the night before, and they'll be defrosted for the next day.

Meal-in-a-Muffin Recipe
(based loosely on "Eggless Apple Muffins" from Super Baby Foods by Ruth Yaron, pg. 326)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl:

2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. wheat bran
1/2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. raisins
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix wet ingredients in a food processor until smooth:

1 23-oz jar unsweetened applesauce
12 oz. soft silken tofu
1/3 c. Orange Puree
1/2 c. yogurt (plain, vanilla, or banana are best)
2 Tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix wet ingredients into dry. Pour into greased or lined muffin cups (about 2/3 full). Bake 25-30 minutes. Once cool, can be stored in freezer (to thaw, just move to the fridge and they'll be defrosted by morning). 


Whether you have a picky eater, or you're just looking for some new ways to get extra nutrition in your family's day, I hope these tips and recipes are helpful. If you have any suggestions or advice for parents of picky eaters, please Post a Comment. As always, thanks for reading!

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