Avoid dishing out kid-friendly meals to your children
Follow these tips to get picky-eating children to eat what you eat.
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The first time I hosted family Sunday dinner when my sister’s daughter Madeline was eating solid foods, I browsed blogs fretting over what I would feed the two-year-old.
What’s kid-friendly? Can I use pepper? Should I cook the pasta extra long? Hold back the seasoning? Do a gentle sauté instead of a full roast?
I let the pasta boil for an extra three minutes. Not only did she not eat it, the adults at the table had to choke down my bland, slightly overcooked meal.
Her parents later asked me not to make anything special for her — she was to be served what the adults were eating. I thought they were just being polite, but soon found out they were preventing their daughter from becoming a picky eater.
Dr. Dina Kulik, a pediatrician at Kid Crew Medical clinic in Toronto, advises parents to feed kids what everyone else would eat at the table. She writes about how to prevent picky eaters on her online blog drdina.ca.
“I have three children who are six, four and two,” she says. “I’m not preparing something special for each of them because they don’t like what I prepared. I’m not a lunch chef. I don’t expect them to finish every single thing on the plate, but at least try everything on their plate. They eat the same meals as us whether it’s pasta, chicken or quinoa. We have one meal as a family. I don’t make them chicken fingers or French fries because they don’t want the healthy, nutritious food in front of them, that’s not how we roll.”
It’s a similar sentiment shared when I asked readers what they feed their young children. Parents wrote of sweet curries with a dollop of yogurt, shrimp stir-frys, quinoa pancakes, roasted squash, crisp snow peas, stuff parents around the world fed their children long before the advent of jarred baby food, Baby Bullets and kid-approved snack packs at the supermarket.
These days, it may be tempting to heat up chicken nuggets and pizza to get kids to eat something, but Kulik says this just complicates eating habits later in life.
“Let’s say you make this beautiful chicken dish and the kids reject it. So then you make chicken fingers and fries and they’ll eat that. You’re reinforcing them to not eat your chicken and to eat something else instead,” she says. “It’ll keep going and every meal will be a battle because negative behaviour is being reinforced.”
Vancouver-based chef and cookbook author Vikram Vij adds that simply calling a kid a picky eater reinforces a negative relationship with food.
“Kids internalize these things. If they’re called picky eaters, they’ll believe it,” says the father of two. “Being categorized as a picky eater boxes them in and paralyzes them into not trying new foods.” He also objects to preparing special meals for kids, saying it makes them feel isolated from the rest of the dinner table.
“You have to make sure that what you make for yourself, you set aside something that they can eat, too. Don’t ostracize them. Show them the ingredients; let them know what it is. Let food be part of their everyday life.”
Emphasizing the fun, social aspect of food is important for kids, both Vij and Kulik say. Get them involved with meal preparation and give them a sense of responsibility and ownership in the meal so that they’ll be proud of what’s on their plate. Let them experiment with spices and herbs. If kids see parents add seasoning to their plate, let them try it too.
Of course, parents are always concerned about the possibility of allergies when introducing new foods to their kids, but pediatric allergist Dr. Tracy Pitt says that in North America, less than 10 per cent of the population have allergies to eggs and nuts.
“When I add pepper to my soup, so will my kids,” Kulik says. “We take our kids to grocery shopping every week. They pick out vegetables and fruit they want to try, like star fruit or jackfruit, and they’ll always try it because they choose it. They’ll help cut and wash vegetables, or my two-year-old will sit at the table and organize a plate of veggies so they have some onus on the preparation. Even menial, small jobs will make them feel like they’re part of the experience.”
And if after all that, the kid still isn’t biting, it’s worth it to give carrots and corn another try at another meal.
“Try things more than once, you need to try five to 15 times before kids determine if they like it,” Kulik says. “Don’t give up just because the kid doesn’t like it on the first go. Different cooking methods will make things taste differently.”
With that in mind, the next time I hosted Sunday family supper, I roasted red peppers, asparagus, carrots and sweet potato until they were slightly singed with a crisp exterior and a tender inside. I made pasta, al dente, and seared duck breasts ’til the skin was crispy and the fat was glistening. Madeline couldn’t get enough of it all, proclaiming her love for duck in between bites. My niece taught me the simple rule that good food is good food, regardless of age.
AVOCADO AND CHOPPED EGGS ON PITA
Makes 4 servings
Here’s a tasty, easy-to-prepare meal fit for parents and children sinking their teeth into solids. Flatbreads make an easy vehicle for introducing vegetables, spreads and proteins, plus they can pick it up with their hands and get involved in the assembly process. Have them spread hummus or mash avocado; sprinkle crumbled cheese; layer thinly sliced zucchini, tomatoes or shredded meats, the options are endless. This is one colourful example to get things started.
2 whole-wheat pitas
1 avocado, mashed
1/2 cup (125 mL) canned chickpeas, rinsed and mashed
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 handful spinach leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup (60 mL) crumbled feta
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Spread mashed avocado generously on pitas. Add dollops of mashed chickpeas. Sprinkle with chopped egg, spinach and feta. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil on top.
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