Is your child an extremely picky eater? Looking for new ways to try Paleo-friendly foods? We'll give you some tips and examples on how to get your child from saying "Yucky!" to "Yummy!" to healthy foods.
Whether you're a Paleo vet or transitioning your family to a whole-foods lifestyle, concern over what your child may or may not be eating is common. It is important to understand that most children get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets over the course of a week, however, until your child's food preferences mature, it may become necessary to know how to minimize meal-time battles.
Here are a few strategies you can implement to avoid power struggles and help picky eaters reap the benefits of a Paleo diet.
Respect your child's appetite — or lack of one
If your child is not hungry, forcing a meal, snack or bribing them to eat certain foods is not productive. This has the potential to ignite or reinforce a battle. Serve small portions to avoid overwhelming your child and give them the opportunity to ask for more if they independently choose to.
When introducing new food, use your child’s appetite to your advantage: start the meal with a few bites of the food they're least likely to eat (usually vegetables), serving their favorites last. The theory is that they are hungry when initially sitting down to the meal and will eat at least some of what is on the plate, getting some nutritious food in right away.
Be patient when introducing new food
Young children often touch or smell new foods, and might even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child might need repeated exposure before he or she takes the first bite.
Encourage your child by talking about a food's color, shape, aroma and texture as opposed to whether it tastes good. Serve new foods along with your child's favorite foods.
Understand that it may really taste “yucky”
As humans, we are designed to seek out and prefer sweet foods and dislike bitter ones. Sweet implies survival (breast milk is the perfect example), and bitter means something may be toxic. Certain foods are naturally rejected by your child because children have more taste buds than adults (we lose these as we age), so the flavor of foods is amplified for little ones.
You may have heard that it could take up to 15 tries before a child will accept a new food. Preparing foods in ways that may be easier or more palatable for your child will keep you a step ahead of the game: Roasting vegetables, (and adding a little bacon), brings out their natural sweetness; sour tastes counteract bitter ones.
Get children involved with the cooking process
Tip from Pete: When children "make" dinner with you, they are proud of it and will have a sense of ownership. The cooking process then becomes something they're a part of, verses something happening to them. They may be more inclined to eat because they cooked it too.
To ensure your child is getting some of the benefits of the Paleo foods they refuse, try adding chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce; serve fruit with nuts and seeds, or other crunchy vegetables (apples and celery work well together); or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups.
Dessert is not a reward
Withholding dessert or Paleo ‘treats’ sends a message that sweet indulgences are ones to be prized and rewarded; which might only increase your child's desire for processed products not part of your Paleo lifestyle.
You might select a night each a for dessert night or alternately, redefine dessert as fruit, cultured dairy or non-dairy product or other healthy choices.
Avoid being the Paleo police
A balanced approach is important for most things in life, and feeding your children well is no exception. While children with allergies should be fed with the utmost care to manage undesirable symptoms, too much control regarding a child’s diet can turn them away from enjoying food altogether.
Consistency is key
A little exposure therapy in the kitchen is a fairly trustworthy method in transforming your picky eaters into being more open minded around their food choices. If at first they vehemently refuse to try, keep on trying. Repetition often leads to familiarity which is finally followed by acceptance.
Like Kendra H - who even her picky family loved spinach from Pete's Paleo family meal plan:
Start and maintain a healthy transition as early as possible
Tip from Sarah: Start them early. We transitioned to Weston, a price chicken liver/bone broth formula, when I was done nursing Lois. We never introduced her to rice cereals when she was younger, and she ate puréed meats and veggies, just like a Petes Paleo meal. Now, she looks forward to them for lunch and dinner and gets excited about fruit as a snack or dessert.
Being consistent is key. It's about what you stock in the house. They're not going to starve if they refuse to eat something. Definitely doesn't work for everyone and I don't have all the answers, but this is what works for us.
There is no approach that works for all the picky eaters, but there are numerous ways you can work with them and teach them about making healthier choices.
It is important to remind yourself that your child's eating habits will not change overnight, but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.
For more Paleo resources, check Pete's Paleo Resources page: