Are you raising a picky eater? For a child, this is a normal part of development, though it can become difficult behavior when allowed to persist (even into adulthood).
Numerous studies have been done as to the needed number of servings eaten daily of vegetables. Two to three servings is the answer (while five to seven servings of produce is recommended). The two most eaten vegetables are corn and French fries. Vegetables are a significant source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, so inadequate intake and limited variety results in limited nutrient intake. This aggravates many life-impacting diseases.
As babies and even adults, we instinctively shy away from foods with a bitter taste or unfamiliar texture. Unfortunately, many vegetables have a bitter taste.
Persistence counts. It can take as many as 20 attempts before some children will try it, and then several more exposures thereafter to get children to accept it. After years of nutrition counseling, I oftentimes find a parent or caregiver will offer an item once and, when rejected, never offer it again.
One suggestion is have the food visible, available and offered frequently. Some foods are more readily accepted when presented in forms such as raw instead of cooked or frozen instead of canned - such as frozen spinach rather than canned, fresh tomatoes rather than canned.
Though the following tips are geared toward toddlers, they also could work for picky eaters of other ages.
•Don't become a short-order cook. It gives into unacceptable behavior and supports an attitude of not trying new foods.
•Make meals a sit-down event. Meals on-the-go or fast food drive-throughs rarely include the needed variety of vegetables and fruits. A sit-down meal allows more interaction about foods being eaten.
•Plan snacks. Snacks can be a great opportunity to add quality rather than empty calories. Allow at least an hour or two between snack and meal to allow child to become hungry again.
•Don't stress. Making a big deal about refusal to eat can be very nonproductive as the child succeeds in getting attention for an unacceptable behavior. Very rarely will a normal child withhold to a point when deficiency presents.
•Make it fun. Example: Make it a "red day." Wear red all day and have child select red foods, then create a story or have the child help prepare the food.
•My personal favorite: Hide the ingredients. One can conceal pureed fruits and vegetables in many kid-friendly favorites, though, obviously, this should not be the parent's only approach to encouraging healthy eating.
Hidden ingredients can be various pureed or shredded cooked vegetables (such as sweet potatoes, cauliflower, carrots or pumpkin) and add the vegetable into foods items.
The secret is to pick the right foods to use as a "carrier" and add a small amount of mild-flavored vegetables. For example, combine whole-grain macaroni with white roni, add a couple of eggs to increase protein, as well as sweet potatoes in the sauce for macaroni and cheese. Another example is to puree frozen peas and mix half-and-half with avocado for guacamole.
Cauliflower, carrots and pumpkin are good sneaks in things such as meatloaf and dips. Sweet foods, such as pancakes, hide well, too.
But don't tell them fruit smoothies, pumpkin cupcakes and carrot cake are sneaky foods.
Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at ricekw@co.
laplata.co.us or 247-4355.