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Health, Home, and Happiness: What Makes Kids Picky?

Monday, April 5, 2010

What Makes Kids Picky?

My kids love greens in their scrambled eggs, cod liver oil, sharp cheese, barbecued fish, onions in egg salad, loads of garlic, and plain unsweetened yogurt.  How did I get this to happen? Is it genetics? Eating a variety of spicy foods while pregnant? I'll tell you what I think has helped my children be less picky than the typical American child.  Your results may vary (especially if dealing with SPD or other special needs), but here's what has worked for us:

Cut Out Refined Carbs
This is the biggest thing for us - if my children know that there are crackers, goldfish, cookies, chips, pretzels, or other refined sugars/starches they will refuse nutrient dense foods and hold out for the refined stuff.  I think this is most likely the cycle most parents get stuck in- their children self limit (mine will too) to these foods and they're afraid that if they don't give them to them, they won't eat anything at all. For us, we had a few weeks with *none* of this in the house so they could get used to good nutritious food.  Yes, this is a big step, but I attribute all the variety of foods my children happily eat to breaking them of the nutritionally-void food habit.  After a few weeks of *none* we do have chips, pretzels, and even ice cream in the house again.  It's mostly for Dad, and sometimes for Mom when the kids are in bed.

I like the idea of moderation for things like this with little ones, but it just doesn't seem to work for us. If they know they can have it 'sometimes' and it's in the house, they'll hold out for it.  It's not too bad for hubby and I to wait til they're asleep before we break out the ice cream- it also keeps us eating nutritious foods all day long too :)

Eating in Front of the Kids
Our kids love to eat what we're eating. And hubby and I enjoy all the foods listed above (other than the cod liver oil!) so the kids know that's our every day food.  They're young and eager to try out all of what mom and dad do (including doing the dishes... 'helping' with laundry... 'organizing' the pantry).  Sometimes even if they have the same thing that I do on their plate, it's more appealing if it comes from my plate.  In that case, it doesn't bother me to feed them off of my plate, or sometimes I'll just get them started and then show that they really do have the same thing on their plate.  More often than not they're happy to finish their meal on their own.

Taking the Pressure Off
My children were both slow to start eating- they enjoyed playing with food, but didn't actually swallow much until a few months past their first birthdays (they were breastfed- my 16 month old still is).  I've never really put too much worry into how much they eat. My daughter goes in spurts, I'd guess this is normal.  For a week or so every once in a while she'll only eat a bite or two of her protein (eggs, meat) for a meal and half of her fruit/veggies.  I just note that she's eating less right now and make a note to serve her less at her next meal. She knows how to ask for more when she's hungry again.  She'll also compensate the opposite direction and eat more than I do for a week at a time, I think it all evens out and I don't try to change her.

That's what's seemed to work in this house so far. How about you? How have you had good results getting your children to eat a variety of food? 

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Blogger Gen said...

very cool. my four year old has eating spurts...she'll go for a week with eating next to nothing...then go on an all day eating binge! lol. my children are excellent eaters...goldfish or no. ;)

April 5, 2010 at 6:25 AM  
Blogger Cara @ Health Home and Happiness said...

That's great! I'm sure there are some kids who don't limit to crackers when they're available... my kids don't happen to be of that variety LOL

April 5, 2010 at 6:48 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

same experience exactly for me. my son is 8 and if he knows there is bread and peanut butter in the house he will sometimes not eat the nutrient dense stuff i make in hopes that hell get bread/refined carbs instead. my baby is also 16 months and eats lots of foods but not much of those foods, she mostly throws food to the dog! she still nurses all day/night.

April 5, 2010 at 9:18 AM  
Anonymous Denise Therese said...

Although I am not a mom, I do see what you mean about the carbs/refined sugars. I see it in myself! It takes great determination of will for me to choose veggies (and even some fruits), over sweet treats or bread (which I'm not even supposed to be eating on my restricted diet).

April 5, 2010 at 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Rebeccah said...

I think you forgot to mention something major Your children will eat these things because you feed it to them early in babyhood.. If you don't start introducing these healthy items to them from the very beginning.. it is much more of a challenge later on. They aquire a taste for it so to speak. A lot of people buy processed baby food (a lot of which have refined sugars) for their children which starts them down the wrong track from the very beginning. Out of my 7 children, 2 are picky. They still eat good, just not as much variety as the others... Who knows why...

April 5, 2010 at 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Missy said...

Great post! I think it's important to start those healthy habits young! My kids are a little bit older, so we do have to break previously learned habits and not have chips, ice cream, crackers, or any of that in the house at all. They will fill up on those snacks and the more they have them, will complain about eating the nutrient dense stuff. Plus, they do get the unhealthy snacks at relative's and friend's houses, so we don't keep them in the house whatsoever.

I think forming good eating habits is a lot of exposing them continually to nutritious foods, they WILL eventually learn to like many of them, but it takes time. I know I read somewhere it takes 14tries of something new to kids before developing a real sense of whether they like something or not.

April 5, 2010 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Cara @ Health Home and Happiness said...

Great to hear different experiences!

Starting early- yes, we don't do pureed foods. Just whatever the rest of the family is eating, though we try and have the little ones avoid grains til they're two. We don't start real early though, not much of anything but mama milk until a year.

April 5, 2010 at 11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cara,
Great post. Moderation doesn't work in our home either. So I keep the junk out of the house.

April 5, 2010 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Jana said...

Well said-I started out strong with my kids but lately I haven't been doing as well. Now that they are teens, I just make a point of only having healthy food at home.

April 6, 2010 at 3:38 PM  
Blogger Debra said...

This is so good and so true. We recently were on a candida diet and my 12 year old son has suddenly bloomed into a healthy eater. Now he loves steamed broccoli and butter, eggs, beans, etc. He has said, "Now I see how foolish I have been Mama."

Thanks for your posts. Love them. Keep them coming.

April 15, 2010 at 1:22 AM  

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