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How to Navigate Healthy Eating With Picky Eaters During Uncertain COVID-19 Times

As a children’s nutritionist, I can understand a desire to boost Vitamin A, E, C and Omega Fatty Acids in a child’s diet to boost their immune system, especially relating to fighting the cold and flu symptoms associated with COVID-19. Yet, when parents have picky eaters, these “nutrient  prescriptions” can be very overwhelming. Parents can feel […]

As a children’s nutritionist, I can understand a desire to boost Vitamin A, E, C and Omega Fatty Acids in a child’s diet to boost their immune system, especially relating to fighting the cold and flu symptoms associated with COVID-19. Yet, when parents have picky eaters, these “nutrient  prescriptions” can be very overwhelming. Parents can feel stressed and isolated with this approach to nutrition. “How am I ever going to get them to eat that?”

So, instead of focusing on “getting” your child to eat. Let’s look at some tips that will reduce stress and help children start to enjoy a wider range of healthy foods. 

1. BE MINDFUL OF THE LONG-TERM GOAL OF NUTRITION

We hope to raise children that eat foods that nourish their body in social gatherings to achieve a state of satiety. Hence, befriending food is important. A positive relationship with food flows onto a great sense of body confidence too.   

2. FAMILY STYLE SERVE AND THE VALUE OF EXPOSURE

Often, I mention how effective serving food deconstructed in the middle of the table is for children and give the obvious example of Taco Tuesday. Parents generally say, “Oh yeah, when we have a casual meal like that, the kids always eat better!” So, why not make all meals “family style”? A family style serve where the parents/caregivers offer the food in the middle of the table and the children decide how much to take? It is a brilliant practice to help children make friends with food. They can make friends with vitamin A-loaded sweet potato by seeing it in the middle of the table, more than if they are being thrust a forkful and being asked to “just take a bite”. 

To increase the chances of our children trying foods that will boost their immunity, present them alongside foods that they usually eat during meals. For example, I may serve some extra sliced orange alongside preferred peanut butter wraps at lunch. I may crumb some diced salmon pieces to bake alongside some chicken nuggets for dinner. I can serve spiralized carrot next to plain buttered pasta. Making friends with immunity boosting foods starts with a pressure-free introduction! 

3. REDUCE VISIBLE STRESS AND PRESSURE

With the shops being in a state of emergency, venture to the shops on your own as much as possible. Children pick up on the currents of stress and anxiety.

Anxiety works as an appetite suppressant! Our children need to succinctly understand that we are being careful about spreading germs even more so than usual. 

Beyond that, they need reassurance from parents and assistance to keep stress at bay.

This is the same with meals. If you are stressed about each bite of broccoli your child takes, your child will perceive the stress. Your child’s appetite temporarily shrinks. Once the pressure is gone, perhaps an hour later, we may hear “I’m hungry, I’m starving”. This is when their tummy registers their hunger again after feeling “full” during the meal. Pressure comes in many forms including staring at your child while they are eating, asking them to take a bite, rewarding them with dessert, excessively praising them for trying a food and too much food talk during meals. Keep food talk to a minimum. Keep the stress away from mealtimes. 

Overall, it is important to focus on the fact that we eat food and not just “key nutrients”. Lifelong habits start with baby steps at each eating opportunity. 

First Published: The Natural Parenting Magazine

Simone’s Website: Play with Food

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