“Susie doesn't like tomatoes. She tried one when she was 4 years old and spit it right out! So our family doesn't eat any tomatoes.”
Oftentimes parents are distressed with their child’s unwillingness to eat more fruits and vegetables and succumb to giving them the same repertoire of staples such as chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese and other kid-friendly favorites. Your child’s fickle appetite is not an acceptable barrier to preparing healthy meals for your family.
It is so important to engage your children in healthy eating habits from an early age not only for growth and development, but so that when they are older, they will seek out healthy foods during unsupervised times with their friends. Research has shown that children who have healthy eating habits from an early age are physically and mentally healthier later in life.
According to a 2007 review in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, “the most important determinant of a child's liking for a particular food is the extent to which it is familiar. Put simply, children like what they know and they eat what they like. From the very earliest age, children's experiences with food influence both preferences and intake, and research suggests that the earlier and broader that experience, the healthier the child's diet. “
It may take 5, 10, up to 50 times for your child to accept a new food. So don’t give up; keep trying!
Be a role model. Chances are, if your child sees you enjoying a variety of fruits and vegetables they will be more willing to eat them too.
Teach your child why it is important to eat healthy. Tell them that by eating their greens they will have strong muscles and bones so they can grow up to be a firefighter or a professional athlete.
Try preparing foods in a new or different way. Bake, boil, steam, roast, sauté; raw, cooked, wrapped, hidden, animal-shaped—there are endless possibilities of food preparation. Get creative!
Let your child help with grocery shopping and meal preparation. Getting them involved gives them ownership and responsibility and increases the likelihood that they want to eat them food they helped to make.
Dine out. Sometimes a new environment is enough to inspire your child to try something new.
Be patient and don’t force food. Pressuring your child to eat certain vegetables or fruit may cause them to feel negative about those foods and create unhealthy eating behaviors and patterns.
Serve family style rather than dishing up their plate. Let them choose from what is on the table, making sure that there is at least one dish the child is sure to enjoy.
Stick to a routine as much as possible. Your child will be prepared to eat and less likely to snack when they know a meal is coming.
The ultimate goal is for meal time to be a positive, relaxed experience for the whole family. It is an opportunity to grow together and learn more about each other while created healthful habits that will last a lifetime.