More Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters
Avoid restricting “forbidden” foods.
It may seem like common sense to hide special treats so kids can’t get at them at will. But research suggests that restricting access to certain foods only makes them seem more desirable. In fact, in one experiment, kids who’d previously rated a treat “just okay” ate three times as much of the treat when access to it was restricted.
By making the treat a restricted food it’s allure tripled, making it much more likely—not less—that kids would eat it. This suggests that hiding cookies or other treats—or placing them in a high, hard-to-reach cabinet—may make kids more likely to binge on these foods when they get the chance. Rather, consider buying healthful snacks and giving kids full access to these foods.
Avoid dieting in front of the kids.
In some ways, your kids are what you eat. In other words, they watch you more closely than you might think, and take clues from you about what’s good to eat and what’s not. If you routinely eat a broad array of fruits and vegetables, your child is more likely to do the same. Conversely, if you obsess about your weight and appearance, and tie that obsession to food and eating, your child is more likely to develop unhealthy eating patterns, too. Research suggests that women who engage in frequent restrictive diets are more likely to binge eat. Their daughters may even develop eating disorders as a result of this learned behavior. Better to teach a balanced approach to nutrition and healthful eating.
Make vegetables more appealing.
A diet featuring more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is invariably healthier than one that gives scant attention to these foods. Getting kids interested in eating their vegetables is an age-old parental struggle, but it’s one that’s worth the effort. One way to boost success is to make these foods more appealing. Try new methods of cooking. Try new combinations. Try adding a little extra seasoning, citrus zest, butter, brown sugar, herbs, or even cheese sauce to boost the kid-appeal factor. The benefits of eating these foods will outweigh the negative of adding a few additional calories.
Don’t give in too soon.
Some parents make the mistake of giving up too soon. Getting kids to try—and like—new foods takes time, patience, and perseverance. One researcher suggests a “rule of 15”. Serve a given dish at least 15 times before concluding that your child will never try it, or like it. Tastes change, and research suggests that familiarity breeds contentment.