© 2012 Roy Benaroch, MD
We’ve been talking about how to handle mealtimes to help prevent and deal with food pickiness—but without really concentrating on getting the child to somehow eat more of the foods he doesn’t want. That’s because 1) you can’t actually make a child eat something he doesn’t want to eat, and 2) even if you could, it’s still not a good idea. We’re trying to develop healthy habits to last a lifetime, and we’re no longer really worried about how many brussels sprouts are consumed at an individual meal (if you are still worried about that, start over.)
There are some special situations that ought to be mentioned. This discussion has been about developmentally and neurologically normal children. If your child has autism or other developmental challenges, some modifications of these instructions may be needed (though philosophically, it’s even more important to reinforce and teach independent feeding skills to children with developmental disabilities.) Likewise, some medical problems can lead to problems with eating that are beyond the scope of these posts. If your child is not neurologically typical, you ought to get more-specific instructions from your pediatrician or other health expert who knows your child well.
One issue that seems difficult to work around is parent’s worry that a lack of vegetables will lead to serious health problems from vitamin deficiencies. As it turns out, so many foods in the USA are fortified with vitamins that deficiencies are almost unheard of—but still, there’s a worry, and it’s led to a proliferation of overpriced, overhyped supplements that supposedly replace fruit and vegetable intake. Don’t fall for the advertisements. If you can’t help but worry that your kids aren’t getting vitamins, have them take an inexpensive generic multivitamin every day. There is zero benefit to any premium or expensive vitamin—a chemical is a chemical, and your child’s body doesn’t care how much you paid for it.
There also is an understandable need for some parents to have some kind of “back up plan” when a meal completely falls apart. As I’ve said, I think it’s fine for a child to choose anything they want off the table—so if a meal includes spaghetti/meatballs/sauce/broccoli/garlic bread, and all the child wants is plain spaghetti or plain bread pulled off the back of the garlic bread, it’s OK with me. Still, it can be difficult for many parents to let a meal go by without Junior eating much. So, if you’re one to worry, you can offer the following “standing rule”: IF Junior wants to, he can go get a backup meal himself.
The backup meal must be a single item that’s always available, and it should be something the child can prepare himself. A bowl of cereal is a good choice, or plain bread with butter. The backup should be one simple thing, and it’s crucial that mom or dad not have to be the one to get up and deal with it. That would ruin the parents’ meal, and that’s not fair. I’m not sure a “backup” is even needed—kids will in fact eat when they’re hungry—but if parents feel that they need a backup, that’s the way to do it. By the way, we’re talking reasonably-healthy cereal, here. Not one with little marshmallows.
This series started with a question about picky eating, and ended up becoming something much more: a short guide to how to feed your children and your family in a way that will help your children make good food choices for the rest of their lives. At the same time, the “family” meal plan, with separate jobs for parents and kids, should help make mealtimes more enjoyable and fun for everyone. Remember: picky isn’t the problem, and your job is not to get your kids to eat more! Now go cook something fun and enjoyable with your kids, like our family favorite: Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins!
- Cream together 1 stick butter and 1 cup sugar
- Mash into the bowl 3 over-ripe bananas
- Mix in: 2 eggs, ¼ cup yogurt, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, pinch salt, 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour, a good handful of chocolate chips (cook’s helpers get to eat a few)
- Pour batter into about 18 muffin cups. Bake @ 350 for 16-20 minutes. Enjoy with milk!
The picky eater guide: The whole enchilada: