One of the most frustrating experiences as a parent is to have a picky eater. As the parent, you don’t want to force your child to eat things that you know their growing bodies need, but you also don’t want to enable them to continue with their strict limitations. You have to use a velvet hammer approach while getting to the root cause of the problem.
Children have many reasons for avoiding certain foods – there may be color issues, texture issues and of course taste issues. I’ve known children that would only eat white foods (mainly refined carbohydrates like pasta and white bread) and other children that would not eat anything green – others that would refuse to try anything new.
While most children will not starve themselves, this is an indication that something is going on in their gut. When my son was 18 months all he would eat was pasta, cereal, crackers and some fruit. I had to put my foot down when a blood test showed his triglycerides were over 300!
The pediatrician told me he was eating too much fat. Can you imagine? I knew he was not eating much fat at all and it hit me straight on, that it was all the carbs he was eating. I had to put my foot down and I started offering proteins such as chicken and hamburger, etc. He refused to eat it until he got hungry enough – about two days. I told him there was no more pasta or cereal and he had to eat what we had.
Looking back, I wish I had known more about the microbiome, dysbiosis and how to nurture a healthy gut, because a picky eater is a flag that something is wrong in the balance of gut bacteria.
You might consider following the GAPS diet for a while in order to rebalance gut bacteria.
We eat to feed the trillions of gut bacteria that inhabit our intestines. When the balance is off, cravings for certain foods take hold and picky eating can develop. As an adult you have experienced cravings too, right?
That is your gut bacteria (and yeasts) that create those cravings because that is the food they survive on. Mainly they are sugar cravings because this is what pathogenic bacteria love to feast on! This can be changed with a targeted strategy.
1- Start healthy real foods early. Great tasting fresh vegetables and fruits are early foods for baby and help them develop a taste for real food. Some folks following the ideas behind baby led weaning in order to encourage babies to eat all foods.
2- Give children the opportunity by offering foods even if you have tried this food before. Sometimes it takes 25 tries to get a child to taste something new. If you don’t offer it, they have no opportunity at all to try it. When offering new foods, always have another food you know they will eat so at least they will have something and it doesn’t become a control issue.
3- Involve your child in the process of purchasing food (best done at a farmers market or other buying venue that doesn’t sell the commercial cereals and candy marketed to kids) and cooking food. Praise you child for picking out the food, cooking it and then trying it. It is a huge accomplishment.
4- Make one meal for the whole family. This is mistake I made and I wound up making separate meals for my son. This is just wrong. You are not a short order cook. Children should be able to pick foods from a meal that everyone eats. There is where you have to put your foot down (the velvet hammer) and be the parent.
5- Avoid a battle. Never force your child to eat food. Healthy children will not starve themselves – eventually they will come around and try something new. Allow them to choose not to eat at the meal – likely they will eat at the next meal.
6- Keep them hungry. When a child is hungry they will be more open to trying something new. I was never a fan of snacking in between meals. This sets you up for a child that fills up with snacks and/or drinks and is not hungry at meal time.
7- Offer healthy appetizers while you are cooking dinner. Pull out the cut up vegetables and serve with a dip that they like such as guacamole, nut butters, hummus, yogurt or a salad dressing made with olive oil.
8- Cut the vegetables (and fruits) into cool shapes, or use a crinkle cutter or spiralizer to make it fancy and fun. Make the vegetables taste good! Load on the butter and sea salt. Contrary to popular belief, butter and high quality sea salt are really important foods!
9- Introduce the new foods slowly. Don’t expect someone to change overnight. A picky eater can be overwhelmed with too many new foods. (This is how the hammer is velvet) – it should be a soft sell, not a cold turkey change.
10- Keep in mind that this is most likely not a control issues, but an issue with an imbalance in gut flora – and don’t take it personally. Sure, it IS frustrating to cook a meal and someone doesn’t eat it, but you are the adult and you can take it. Know that you are working through it and things will improve.
How have you dealt with your picky eater. Please share you experiences in the comments below!
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