Avoid dishing out kid-friendly meals
Tips on getting picky-eating children to eat what you eat
Try things more than once. You need to try five to 15 times before kids determine if they like it.
Dr. Dina Kulik
The first time I hosted family Sunday dinner when my sister’s daughter Madeline was eating solid foods, I browsed blogs fretting over what I would feed the two-year-old.
What’s kid-friendly? Can I use pepper? Should I cook the pasta extra long? Hold back the seasoning? Do a gentle sauté instead of a full roast?
I let the pasta boil for an extra three minutes. Not only did she not eat it, the adults at the table had to choke down my bland, slightly overcooked meal.
Her parents later asked me not to make anything special for her — she was to be served what the adults were eating. I thought they were just being polite, but soon found out they were preventing their daughter from becoming a picky eater.
Dr. Dina Kulik, a pediatrician at Kid Crew Medical clinic in Toronto, advises parents to feed kids what everyone else would eat at the table. She writes about how to prevent picky eaters on her online blog drdina.ca.
“I have three children who are six, four and two,” she says. “I’m not preparing something special for each of them because they don’t like what I prepared. I’m not a lunch chef. I don’t expect them to finish every single thing on the plate, but at least try everything on their plate. They eat the same meals as us whether it’s pasta, chicken or quinoa. We have one meal as a family.”
It may be tempting to heat up chicken nuggets and pizza to get kids to eat something, but Kulik says this just complicates eating habits later in life.
“Let’s say you make this beautiful chicken dish and the kids reject it. So then you make chicken fingers and fries and they’ll eat that. You’re reinforcing them to not eat your chicken and to eat something else instead,” she says. “It’ll keep going and every meal will be a battle because negative behaviour is being reinforced.”
Vancouver-based chef and cookbook author Vikram Vij adds that simply calling a kid a picky eater reinforces negative relationship with food.
“Kids internalize these things. If they’re called picky eaters, they’ll believe it,” says the father of two. “Being categorized as a picky eater boxes them in and paralyzes them into not trying new foods.” He also objects to preparing special meals for kids, saying it makes them feel isolated from the rest of the dinner table.
“You have to make sure that what you make for yourself, you set aside something that they can eat, too. Don’t ostracize them. Show them the ingredients; let them know what it is. Let food be part of their everyday life.”
Emphasizing the fun, social aspect of food is important for kids, both Vij and Kulik say. Get them involved with meal preparation and give them a sense of responsibility and ownership in the meal so that they’ll be proud of what’s on their plate. Let them experiment with spices and herbs. If kids see parents add seasoning to their plate, let them try it too.
Labelling kids as “picky eaters” only encourages them to request fries over vegetables.