Tips & Tricks For Picky Eaters

Paleo adherents, both novice and veteran, often share a common concern over what a picky eater in their family (young or old) may or may not be eating. It is important to understand that, at least when it comes to your child, most get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets over the course of a week. However, until your picky eater’s food preferences mature, it may become necessary to know how to minimize stress and struggle around meal-time battles.

These statements are often all too familiar to those who have a picky eater (or 2) in their household. When you are struggling to make the right food choices, negative feedback from the dinner table every night can push you back to old ways pretty quickly.

It is normal for children to temporarily only choose particular foods or refuse to eat certain foods for a while. It is not personal, simply what kids do. If you, as a parent, get really anxious about this and start pressuring your child, this may result on your child getting anxious and resistant right back. When you are struggling to make the right food choices, negative feedback from the dinner table every night can push you back to old ways pretty quickly.

High-pressure tactics rarely work. Insisting on a short-term goal (eating the food on the plate right now) takes away from the long-term goal (teaching healthy eating patterns/habits for life).

There are, however a few tips, tricks and strategies that you can use to help your picky family get on board with the changes you want to make, without them even realizing it, Keep reminding yourself that change may not happen overnight, but each shift is a step forward to better nourishing your loved ones – long term!

Start With Small Changes

In order to preserve the peace and prevent an all-out mutiny, you might avoid throwing out all of the favorite go-to’s, packaged foods, sugary salad dressings, and frozen entrees. A big dramatic act will scare your troops making change more challenging for you. Once you run out of a certain sauce, for example, make your own (it is easier than you think) rather than replacing it with the same one. Make everyone’s favorite meal but begin adding more vegetables to the sauce and maybe a little less cheese. Serve with a salad instead of garlic bread.

If your picky eaters are not vegetable fans, start by serving the ones they do enjoy, and find new ways of cooking those they do not. Add a salad at the center of the table for every meal, and let everyone choose their own toppings or dressings. If you know they like broccoli, try kohlrabi one night (they taste similar). If your family makes a face at Brussels sprouts, try sautéing them with a bit of bacon. This then becomes less about specific lifestyle changes, and more about getting some healthier options in their bellies.

Find Foods And Preparations That Work With Your Picky Eater’s Tastes

If you normally fry your chicken, use the same recipe, but bake it in the oven instead. Cook foods in coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. Bake muffins with whole wheat or coconut flour instead of white. Halve the amount of sugar in all recipes and substitute with honey. Small changes add up, without being a shock to the body or mind.

There’s no one single food that is required for a Paleo diet. With a little creativity, you can accommodate a lot of different tastes. Depending on what specifically is the issue, here are some suggestions:

General Aversion To New Foods 

  • Repeated low-pressure exposure (even simply having it on the table so you can see/smell it can be helpful)
  • Imitation foods like Paleo bread/bread mixes, and vegetables in the same family as ones you already like.
    • If carrots are okay - try rainbow carrots, beets, and winter squash;
    • If there is no aversion to onions - try leeks.
    • Your picky eater already eats broccoli - try cauliflower, broccolini, or Chinese broccoli.

Meat Needs To be Breaded Or Deep Fried

Use almond flour or almond meal as a breading instead and carry right on

Avoids Bitter Foods

It is perfectly okay to not to eat tons of vegetables at first. Eat lots of animal foods and berries and use lots of spices for the antioxidants. When you start adding vegetables, roast them with lots of fat or add bacon. Experiment with sweeter vegetables with honey or maple syrup in the sauce.

Mixing Foods Together Is A Problem

Separate everything, simply use your desired Paleo foods!

Improve On The Original.

Using the same lasagne or casserole, try using zucchini noodles or cauliflower instead of wheat or potatoes. Let everyone try a small piece and decide for themselves how delicious it is. Remember hint number 1 when switching up family favourites.

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Create Some Rules, Flexibly.

When making your new, improved lettuce wrapped ‘burgers’, provide a variety of healthy topping options to choose from including red onions, tomatoes, pickles, guacamole and salsa. Place everything on the table, and let your family members either choose three toppings (or three different colors) or eat their burger with extra salad. You can do something similar with a variety of your adapted foods like chili, soup, and vegetable noodles. Put all of the options on the table and let them choose what they want. Then you can eat as many vegetables as you want and they are eating more healthy options without feeling like they are being ‘forced’ to.

It is going to take a little effort and some trial and error when trying to increase the number of salads your family is eating. A bowl full of ice burg lettuce is not going to be appealing or appetizing to most. Prepare a big bowl of greens and serve with a variety of additions including meats, colorful veggies, boiled eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, pickles, dried fruits. Note your family’s favourites and the additions they gravitate towards most.

Prepare only one meal for each mealtime. You are not a restaurant. Preparing a protein and a variety of vegetable dishes for each meal will give your child options while ensuring that the necessary nourishment is available.

Take Notes

Keep a modified food journal which will provide you with the information about which meals your family enjoyed the most and the least. Allow everyone to choose one or two foods they will not eat. Commit to doing your best to avoid those foods in your meals, if they promise to be open minded about what you serve.

A few extra pointers when working on shifting your picky eater’s behavior:

  • Set a good example. Become aware of the words you use and the way you express your thoughts and feelings around food. Show your children your willingness and adaptability around new foods. They can only be what they see. If you refuse to eat certain (or all) vegetables or try new foods, they will have no interest in doing so either!
  • Involve your picky eater in meal planning and cooking (where appropriate). This gives them a sense of contribution and they may get to pick their favorite foods to incorporate into a menu. There are so many Paleo versions of family favorites – play with them a little.
  • Avoid providing fresh or bottled juices. These are highly processed and sugar laden, often containing more sugar than soda, and result in a hyper-stimulation and desensitization of their developing palates. It also affects behavior and can even damage the brain and neural pathways.
  • Stop buying foods you prefer your picky eater not to eat or that you do not want in your pantry or fridge. If there are no ‘kid foods’ in the house, it does become easier to encourage your child to eat healthier whole foods.
  • Limit meal time. Allow your picky eater a maximum of 30 minutes to eat the meal. After this time put the food away. Offer food again at the next scheduled meal or snack time. Extending meal time too long will not the likelihood of eating and does not create a healthy and happy eating environment. 
  • Try, try again. Continue offering new foods even if your child has said no to them before. Offer these foods on different days, at different meals and in different recipes. It can take multiple exposures for a icky eater to try a food and like it. Don’t give up!

Be creative, and you’ll be surprised at the gains you can make with your picky family while gently moving them towards a more varied and nutritious diet! Instead of focusing on the need to make your child eat something right now, shift your attention to creating a dialogue to help him/her learn and practice healthy eating patterns. This approach is not proven to be as effective with spouses, partners, and the inner five-year-old might be living inside you, but it can’t hurt to keep the focus on building long-term habits rather than fixating on any particular piece of broccoli.

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