With the New Year upon us, many parents of picky eaters reflect on what they can do to help their families lead a healthier lifestyle in 2016. If you treat a kiddo stuck in the chicken nugget rut, share these five resolutions with the parents, so they can better guide their child toward more adventurous eating in 2016:
- Make the kitchen the heart of the home. One of the best ways to connect as a family is what I call “parenting in the kitchen.” Ask parents to encourage their kids to chop veggies, mix a dip or line up sweet potato fries on a pan. Suggest they make a meal as a family, but it’s not always possible with hectic schedules. Tell them to start small and build. Teaching children to be adventurous eaters starts by introducing their brains to the feel of new foods by first getting those foods into their hands. That means providing positive practice over time. Even the youngest can get involved with adult supervision. The point is to gather everyone around once a day and be a part of the process – even if it’s just to assemble a new snack.
- Walk down the kitchen-tool aisle once a week. Tell families to explore the many fun tools available to prepare food! Go to a dollar store, grocery store or a fancy cooking shop. A whisk, egg and upbeat “whisking” music may provide just the right impetus to peak a child’s interest in eggs. Eggs too challenging? Start with water and a drop or two of dish soap then whisk a bowl full of bubbles.
- The family table is about FAMILY. Food is secondary. When parents do their best to not worry about how much a child will eat, it relieves everyone’s stress at the table. It’s not easy—especially when a parent is concerned about the child’s nutritional health—but it helps the entire family enjoy mealtimes.
- Vow that holiday parties will be healthy parties. Shortly after we strive to be healthy in the New Year, the sweetness of Valentine’s Day might sabotage our resolution. Use or suggest these fun Valentine food activities for clients and their families.
- “Sweetheart Smoothies.” Let the kids help assemble a platter of frozen berries in hues of red, pinks and purples and mix and match them in a blender. Try layering each color or practice patterns as each child grabs a berry and plops it into the blender. Older kids can spell out Valentine vocabulary as they drop one berry at a time into the blender. Add plain yogurt, chopped ice, perhaps a drop of honey and blend. Keep in mind texture and temperature preferences for different children.
- Available year-round, beets offer a terrific alternative to artificial colors in icings and candies. Add a dash of beet juice to just about anything to create the perfect shade of valentine red. Give the child a raw purple beet, washed and sliced in half, ideally with the greens still intact. Carve hearts or X’s and O’s in the face of the beet. Wipe the cut side with a lightly dampened sponge and let the child stamp the beets onto Valentine cards!
- Now that the first holiday party of 2016 is off to a positive start, carry on with your resolution by taking the green theme of St. Patrick’s Day to a whole new level. What could you do with kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and more? Get creative and remember, it’s about exposing kids to all the possibilities and getting their hands and brains familiar with greens. Eating might come a bit later, but hesitant eaters need to interact with food in the most positive way. So, why not use a party to celebrate new foods – especially green ones? Once you’re on a roll, the rest of the holidays in 2016 will be a cinch!
- Play with food: Kids learn from other kids and often interact with new foods when the focus is on play and not on taking a bite. Try some food-play that gets kids experiencing a variety of foods in a fun and relaxed manner:
- Toothpicks and ____________. Fill in the blank with frozen peas, garbanzo beans, cubes of cheese, stale bread, grapes, chunks of orange and parts of the peel, whatever! Let the kids’ imagination run wild and see what they can build by pushing toothpicks into small pieces of food.
- Spicy paints: For many hesitant eaters, the smell of certain spices gets in the way of trying a new flavor or food. Painting with spices helps their sensitive noses adjust to new aromas. Many of us can find old jars of spices in our cabinets and it takes just a pinch to make food paint. Mix one teaspoon of cinnamon, dry mustard, curry powder or any deeply colored spice with a few drops of water to make perfect painting colors. Try combining complimentary spices, such as turmeric and curry, to come up with new hues and scents. Don’t have paintbrushes? Cotton swabs work perfectly!
- Go fish with vegetables: This is a favorite among my clients in feeding therapy, even the older elementary school kids. Pass out an assortment of vegetables to each player. Put a cardboard barrier up between the two players so the veggies stay hidden from the other player’s view. Pass out five pieces of random vegetables to each player, much like dealing out the cards in “Go Fish.” The first player might ask, “Do you have any peas?” whether he has a pea or not. If the other player does indeed have that veggie, he hands it over the partition. Every time a player gets a match, he puts the two matching vegetables to the side in view of each player. Continue until all vegetables get played or matched. Whoever gets the most matches wins! But really, all players win, because they all interacted with a variety of vegetables, picking each one up and experiencing the feel of each. One of my clients secretly ate his peas to make sure I never got a match and I pretended not to notice. Let’s hope your kids are that sneaky.
Share your ideas for helping hesitant eaters “play” with food in the comments below. And Happy New Year!
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children, birth to teens, who have difficulty eating. She is the co-author of “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook—A Stage by Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating,” the author of “Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids,” and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD: “Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs That Celebrate the Joy of Food!” Melanie@mymunchbug.com