The little boy who flushes his peas down the toilet, the little girl who hides porridge in her pockets, or the toddler who won’t touch his meal if there’s something green on the plate — you’ve heard the stories, if you’re not already living them. Kids are often picky eaters and it’s common for those in the one- to three-year age range to reject new foods. There is cause for concern: A 2004 statistics Canada survey found 70 percent of young children didn’t eat the recommended five daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Creating healthy habits in these first few years is critical.
Read more: 4 ways to help a fussy eater>
Trish Magwood, a Toronto mother and cookbook author, wishes she had taken a different approach to feeding her first child, a fussy eater. with the hindsight of two more children since, Magwood says much of the blame lay with her — for nagging, being too rigid during meals and making her preference for healthy food too obvious. “I think parents are part of the problem when kids are picky eaters. we’re creating their hang-ups,” she says. Her oldest wouldn’t touch broccoli or peas, while his younger siblings happily chomped on red peppers, parsnips and spicy chicken.
Forcing a child to eat or giving ultimatums can turn dining into a daily food fight. “The less pressure put on a child at mealtime, the better he will do,” says Rosemary Szabadka, a public health dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. “The most important thing is developing a good eating relationship with your children as soon as they are eating solids. healthy eating is a skill that takes time to develop.” Szabadka recommends five to six small meals a day, and says parents shouldn’t fixate on when a child won’t eat his dinner.
Magwood suggests offering fruit and vegetables when children are hungriest, such as after naps. Serve meals with a sippy cup of water. (Juice should be limited to four ounces daily, according to Canada’s Food Guide.) Introduce healthy new menu items along with foods they like, and if they don’t like something, serve it up again. In fact, experts say you should try a new food 10 times or more. Children older than 18 months — and sometimes younger — are usually able to eat the same foods as the rest of the family, as long as parents are conscious of choking hazards. Skip the tasteless “child-friendly meals” (like mushy peas and chicken fingers) and serve flavourful spreads instead.
“That’s the other misconception with children,” says Magwood. “They actually do like foods with flavour, and will develop their palate.