How to feed kids without resorting to ‘kid’ food
Originally posted on The Washington Post, July 9 2019 written by Rachel Cernansky
Melanie Potock, a pediatric feeding specialist in Longmont, Colorado and other experts share their advice on how to raise kids with a broader, healthier palate.
Make the healthy option the normal option, and be patient
Offering new and healthy foods regularly is the most tried-and-true way for kids to learn they like a food. Developing a palate is a gradual process. It isn’t easy, but experts say that’s the point so many parents are missing. “We don’t ask them to know how to do calculus before they can add two plus two. There’s a process with everything the child learns, so why wouldn’t there be a learning process about food?” said Kathleen Keller, director of the Metabolic Kitchen and Children’s Eating Behavior Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.
Remember, children are drawn to what’s familiar. If they’re exposed to healthy foods regularly, eventually those foods become familiar. Exposure does not mean they need to eat it — seeing it or even playing with it can count. The idea is to build familiarity.
Talk about nutrition
Children can often handle more than they’re given credit for. “Help kids learn in an age- and developmentally-appropriate way how foods help to fuel their bodies,” said Natalie Muth, pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. That can mean explaining that fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals that help them grow — so they can tackle the monkey bars sooner or faster, or boost their game in soccer or gymnastics, or whatever it is they can relate to. This can make for fewer mealtime battles and empower children to resist the many unhealthy options that will tempt them outside the home.
Make food a positive experience
The best way to ensure kids’ minds are open to trying new foods, both in the moment and in the future, is to help their brains form positive associations with those foods. Involve them in planning and cooking meals to boost their investment. In cooking classes run by Denver-based Sticky Fingers Cooking, children often begin a session unwilling to try anything new. After being engaged with the cooking and with peers who are also trying the foods, they may taste a new fruit or vegetable, or develop an association with a new food. “Even if on that day, they didn’t want to touch it, taste it, smell it, they still had a positive experience,” said Chloe Sundberg, the company’s scheduling manager.
Try the family dinner
Everyone should be eating the same meal — or at least choosing what they want to eat from the same set of options. If kids say they don’t like the meal and are provided an alternate dish, they’re learning they can hold out for something else in the future. Eating together probably boosts the health content of their meal, but it also lets them experience the positive social interactions that food can create. And don’t get hung up on having a perfect meal ready every night. “It’s as much about the sitting down and connecting as it is about the food,” Fernando said.
Avoid solutions that can backfire
Pressuring children to eat certain foods or hiding vegetables behind more enticing foods are not long-term solutions. Doing so is fine for adding a nutritional boost to something they’ll be eating anyway, but it can be problematic as an exclusive means for getting children their veggies. A recent study by researchers in Denmark found that eating vegetable-fortified snack bars increases children’s liking for the bars — but not for vegetables.