by Tamara Green
I was sitting in my pediatrician's office for my son's 4 month check up (he’s now almost 3), his weight gain was slow so she strongly suggested to start him on real food immediately. As a nutritionist and a wellness chef, this was exciting!
I had no idea how to feed kids, but I figured - I got this. For almost a decade I’ve been revamping people’s diets aiding them in losing weight, lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation, rebuilding digestion and helping them eat through the worst of parts of cancer treatment.
Without a plan in mind, I left the appointment, bought a butternut squash, peeled it, steamed it and fed it to him. Success.
I had helped a few parents with their picky eating children in the past, my judgemental thoughts were LOUD, “Oh my god, look at the stuff these people are feeding their kids! Why the hell would they introduce this crap into their diets so early -- it’s their fault!”
Don’t you love when things come back to bite you in the ass?!
For the next couple of months my son ate everything. My ego was nicely inflated and I thought, "Good job Tamara, you are rocking this parenting and kid nutrition thing." Then, like a light switch his love and acceptance of any and all foods turned off. His plate was now populated with beige, beige and more beige coloured foods. Mealtimes were stressful, tense and sad.
People always say to me, “You must feed your kid the best food, he’s so lucky to eat your cooking,” I shamefully feign a smile knowing his last meal was most likely plain pasta and chicken fingers.
So, I hit up books, blogs and everything in between to read, research and experiment how to change his eating habits and these are the crucial lessons I’ve learned.
1. Choose Your Battles
Parenting is HARD and parenting a toddler is DAMN hard. They’re trying to find their place and exert control in this world, even if it makes absolutely no rational sense (which it never does). Eating is one of those things they want control over. Sometimes you have the energy to set boundaries around mealtime and sometimes you just don’t. I often prepare a meal for my son (sometimes he helps), but begging him to take “just four more bites”, or “just try it, I promise you’ll like it” has never worked well for us. Sometimes this takes him away from listening to his own body’s cues and hunger signals. So at this moment in time, when his plate is in front of him, it’s his choice what he eats and what he doesn’t….for now, at least.
2. Just F-ing Relax
Meals for most families are filled with lots of stress and pressure and guess what, kids feel that! Standing over them as they eat with your watchful, passive-aggressive eye is not a pleasant way for anyone to enjoy a meal. Your kid’s diet may suck, but taking away the expectation and pressure actually has the effect you want -- i.e. they may even eat what’s on their plate or try new things. Trust me, when your kid is hungry, they will eat and they’ll let you know it. This doesn’t mean give up on feeding them good food, it just means calm the f*&k down, ok?
3. Never Give Up Trying
Just because my son is a picky eater doesn’t mean I am throwing in the towel here. I am still committed to giving my son as much nutrition as I possibly can, but sometimes when it doesn’t work it’s time to release that pressure and judgement and go with the flow. Once his dinner consisted of two Made Good granola bars and half an apple. Yup. Although my heart may break a little, I go back to points #1 and #2 for solace. Tomorrow is another day.
4. Be Sneaky and then Maniacally Reveal Your Secrets
My son does NOT like to try new things, even if I know he will LOVE it. So, if I make him chocolate smoothies, chocolate pudding or chocolate muffins (are you sensing a theme here), I will hide avocado, wheatgrass, cauliflower and zucchini in them. Once the first few bites have been taken and he’s clearly digging in (chocolate is ALL over his face), I then spill the tea (a phrase I learned from RuPaul’s Drag Race). “Did you know there are avocados in this pudding??? Yum!! Avocados make you smart and strong!” It's important they know these healthy ingredients are actually in the foods they like.
5. Don’t Play the Comparison Game
Every other kid you know eats everything. Awesome. This isn’t your kid and that’s ok. We’re all different and to compare your kids’ diet to another's doesn’t do anyone any favours. It makes you feel like crap and it puts unwanted guilt and pressure on your own kid. “But looooook, Cole ate all of his broccoli! Wow look at Cole’s plate, good job, Cole!” Nope, not helpful. This is really a tip for every facet of life. You don’t want to be compared to others, why would your kids? Also know that some tactics that work for other kids, just won’t work for yours and that’s ok too.
6. Picky Eating Doesn’t Last Forever
Case and point -- I was said picky eater. Hamburgers, french fries and pizza only, please! I am now a nutritionist and a wellness chef who eats everything. As we age our taste buds and appetite change, the chances that your child will only eat chicken fingers and french fries when he or she is in their 30’s is highly unlikely.
Let me finish by saying whatever you’re doing, you’re doing great (yes, I am mostly talking to myself here). We are all just trying to do our best and if you love, shelter and feed your kids you are already an amazing parent. So let’s all give ourselves a big pat on the back and take a few deep breaths. In years from now we're not going to remember or care if our kids ate their peppers or if they went full-on tantrum mode when they saw green beans on their plate, instead we're going to focus on the bigger, loving moments we have with them. And, one thing I know for sure every stage passes and this one will too.