Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Can You Make a Kid Eat Broccoli?

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In my early dietitian days, I counseled moms and pregnant women as part of the WIC program. I was young and idealistic, way before I had kids of my own. I have since learned that book knowledge when it comes to kids should be taken with a grain of salt, a fact that really hit home about one week of attempting to breastfeed my newborn. Anyway, one of the few applicable things that I took with me were my favorite books on child nutrition, Ellyn Satter's “Child of Mine” and "How to Get Your Kid to Eat… But Not Too Much”. The books outline general guidelines that I used on my toddler with great success, particularly her mantra “It is not up to you to get the food into the mouth of the child”. Her basic philosophy is that as long as you are doing your part of providing consistent, reasonably balanced meals, your child will do the rest and eat what he/she needs. Unfortuntately, as time goes on it has become harder and harder for me to give my 4-year old dessert along with his dinner and not push him to at least have one bite of broccoli. I can see it backfire too, as he pushes back just this week leaving his carrots and tomatoes, previously favorites, uneaten.

Yesterday’s New York Times article “6 Food Mistakes Parents Make” helped me remember the old lessons:

  1. Involve kids in cooking: kids who cooked their own food were more likely to eat that food in the cafeteria than those who did not

  2. No pressure / rewards: rewarding kids for eating a food only makes them realize that the food is so bad it needs incentives to eat it.

  3. Don't forbid / restrict foods: Not allowing foods or making foods “exciting treats” means that when these foods are allowed, kids (or adults) will eat lots more of them.

  4. Model healthy eating habits: picky parents make picky kids. If a parent is dieting or hates vegetables, kids will follow.

  5. Make vegetables more exciting: add dips or cheese sauce if needed to make vegetables more appealing. I also find eating foods in funny ways (we eat green beans with our fingers like French fries), cutting cute shapes or making faces helps with appeal.

  6. Keep trying: Even if kids refuse a certain food, continue to serve it to the rest of the family and they may someday give it a try. Repeated exposure (10 to 15 times even) can sometimes be the key. Once they like a certain food, try to find similar colored / textured foods to keep expanding their preferences.

So what can a busy mom do?
Fill your house with healthy food. Eat that healthy food yourself. Let go of food issues and model healthy eating habits. Provide regular family mealtimes (doesn’t have to be daily or dinner – just find a time and plan to make something regular that works for your family). Involve everyone in meal preparation.

What am I going to do?
Put less food in his lunchbox, so hopefully he will be hungry enough to eat those carrots. Continue to have him pick out foods at the grocery store (in the produce aisle). Have him help me pack his lunch in the evenings. Include dips for vegetables and look for other creative vegetable ideas (i.e. faces, spinach brownies, etc.). I will try to post some of the fun vegetable recipes I have been trying out this month too.

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