Not Picky, Taught Picky

March 9, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

Nutritionists are telling us that we can raise our children to have healthy appetites. (Photos.com)
Nutritionists are telling us that we can raise our children to have healthy appetites. (Photos.com)
My children love to eat most vegetables, from salads to kale to mushrooms. When I share this with peers, they often ask me how I managed to get them to like “healthy” foods.

Well, for one thing, I always made it a priority to educate my girls on good food and nutrition. I tell them about the consequences of poor eating choices and excite them about healthy vegetables. I talk about the vegetable, and point out why it looks good, or if it is wilted or overcooked, how it doesn’t look so good. I teach them to describe the taste, whether it is sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or spicy. I have them consciously experience the textures, which is why they began enjoying salad. They love the crunch to lettuce and cucumbers.

I also get them involved in food preparation or teach an animated cooking class to them as I am preparing dinner.

When my older daughter was about four years old she watched the documentary Super Size Me and from that day forward, she’d rather go hungry than eat from a fast food restaurant, particularly McDonalds. Her sister copies the same sentiment. If we are on the road, this does not always work to our benefit, but at least I know that they know how to take good care of themselves.

I have been working on having my daughters continually expand their tastes, because although they love many vegetables, introducing unfamiliar foods is not always the easiest thing to do. This became particularly apparent when my mother-in-law came into town. She made us a delicious and healthy dinner, but it was hard to get the girls to eat it, because it was so foreign to them. They kind of just sat there, twirling their food around their plates until the younger one rudely proclaimed that she had wanted me to make dinner.

I had been thinking about how to go about expanding their tastes when I read in the IDEA Fitness Journal that nutritionists are saying that young picky eaters are not based on innate character flaws, but rather on the examples we have set for them.

This lesson often starts as early in utero. Everything a mother eats while pregnant and breast-feeding to everything a mother feeds her child as an infant and toddler will shape and train that child’s tastes and eating habits.

One of the pointers I read in IDEA that really hit home is the suggestion to “stick with the program.” Many parents give up after a few attempts to get a child to try and enjoy a new food, but actually, it often takes up to 10 attempts before a child will acclimate their tastes to new food.

So in my case, I decided to explore cooking meals that were different from my normal choices and incorporate new dishes in with the old. My daughters will have to regularly try a new dish with dinner that I know they will enjoy. They may not like this new dish at first, but they will soon see how they can grow to like it. This will resolve their inability to tasting newly prepared foods. Also, this helps us all eat the same meal together. Rather than preparing separate meals for the adults and children, we all eat the same meal with some leeway.

This approach is easy for me because I tend to create Asian-like foods, which are often family style dishes with multiple choices. This is still very possible if you have a different way of cooking. You can always save some of the extra dishes for lunch or dinner the next day!

If you are a parent who simply wants to get their child eating broccoli without having to puree it and hide it in brownies (as some chefs suggest), try feeding it to them at least ten evenings in a row. Try preparing the broccoli with lemon or sea salt and garlic. Try serving them steamed, roasted, or fried. Not only will you teach them that there are so many possibilities with one little vegetable, they will begin to acclimate themselves to the taste, so it becomes less tortuous to eat.

We may no longer play victim to our child’s picky eating habits!