Picky palates

Choosy eaters and obe­sity have more in com­mon than you might think

The Kids Post - - Kids Health Matters - by Caro­line Ak­sich

Whether she’s shak­ing her tail feather on Jimmy Fal­lon or bust­ing a move in front of a gym­na­sium of el­e­men­tary school tots, Michelle Obama is com­mit­ted to show­ing kids that get­ting ac­tive and be­ing healthy can be fun. Obama’s cause du jour, putting an end to child­hood obe­sity, has got not only Amer­i­cans, but also Cana­di­ans talk­ing about the im­por­tance of chil­dren’s nutri­tion.

The U.S. pres­i­dent’s wife’s Let’s Move! campaign seeks to in­still healthy habits in kids un­der the premise that they will ma­ture into fit adults.

Al­though you aren’t likely to see Lau­reen Harper twerk­ing on live TV any time soon, Cana­dian chil­dren too suf­fer from the child­hood obe­sity epi­demic. Al­though nearly twice as many Amer­i­can kids are con­sid­ered to be clin­i­cally obese com­pared to Cana­di­ans, as adults we catch up to our neigh­bours, with a quar­ter of adult Cana­di­ans re­garded to be obese com­pared to a third of all Amer­i­can adults. So how do we stymie this un­set­tling trend?

Sur­pris­ingly, child nu­tri­tion­ist Aviva Allen says that most par­ents come to her not to com­bat obe­sity, but be­cause of “picky eat­ing.” Picky eat­ing and obe­sity might not be as dis­parate as they first seem. If chil­dren don’t ex­pand their palates be­yond kid foods, like fries and Po­gos, they are more likely to grow into adults that es­chew stronger flavours such as healthy bit­ter greens — kale, spinach — and an­tiox­i­dant­packed night­shades — toma­toes, egg­plants, pep­pers — that young chil­dren of­ten find off-putting.

“Chil­dren have more taste buds than we do as adults, and they are more con­cen­trated be­cause their mouths are smaller, so they don’t taste things the same way that we do,” ex­plains mid­town-based nu­tri­tion­ist Allen.

So what can a par­ent do to turn a picky child into a true om­ni­vore? Ac­cord­ing to Allen, there’s no clearcut strat­egy. Some kids re­spond well to pos­i­tive ver­bal re­in­force­ment, while oth­ers need to be to re­warded with non-food prizes, and still oth­ers pre­fer their food con­sump­tion to be ig­nored (for the lat­ter cat­e­gory it is best to place new foods on his or her plate and make no com­ments about whether or not the child de­cides to try the of­fend­ing food of his or her own vo­li­tion). It’s all about ex­per­i­ment­ing with your wee ones to see what sticks.

Over at the Stop Com­mu­nity Food Cen­tre, Kanaka Ku­len­dran co-or­di­nates an af­ter-school pro­gram that seeks to teach kids about the food sys­tem as a whole.

Ac­cord­ing to Ku­len­dran, un­der­stand­ing where food comes from helps peo­ple make more in­formed food choices.

“We see it ev­ery day in the pro­gram! Even to­day, the kids grew stuff last week, and they were re­ally ex­cited to come back and har­vest and eat be­cause they took part in do­ing it,” says Ku­len­dran.

It seems that in­volv­ing your child with the cul­ti­va­tion of food pro­motes a cu­rios­ity and drive to try foods that they may oth­er­wise be averse to even sniff­ing.

You’ll never know if they’re willng to try it un­til you put it on their plate

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