Picky Eaters: Your Child’s Diet

By Nancy Da Silva

Walk into any supermarket and you’ll see the panicked faces of parents as they try to quickly bypass the cereal aisle. Children however, seem to have sugar radar, and get ready for the tantrum of your life if you dare to pass the cereal aisle without picking up their favourite brand…or even worse, trying replace their sugary cereal with something, perish the thought: healthier.

Parents seem to have a never ending battle on their hands trying to get their children to eat healthy while still giving them foods they can enjoy. These two ideas might seem mutually exclusive but they don’t have to be. There are ways you can get your child to eat healthy and even included the dread V word (vegetables) into their diet.

Children are undoubtedly impressionable creatures and with all the media pressure to buy the next coolest cereal with the best prize, with our reliance on fast food because of our busy schedules and even our own cultural influences coming into play is it any surprise that child obesity rates are the highest they’ve ever been? Add to that the increased popularity of video games and lack of physical activity, you may feel as if you’re fighting a losing battle trying to get your child to consume the nutrients that is so vital to his growth.

Most parents will tell you that the key to getting your children to eat healthy is to start early. We start our babies off with the purees and keep them away from any fried foods and too much sugar. Then somehow, as they get older, we lose our vigilance in making sure our children only have the best sources of nutrients. So does the key to our children’s food habits lie in our food habits? Is it simply case of out of sight out of mind? Even if we do ban unhealthy foods out of the house, how can we keep them from eating junk food at school or at a friend’s house?

While it’s important to do our best to keep our children eating healthy the best way to instil the values of good eating is not go over board with monitoring every single thing they put in their mouths. You want to keep eating a fun exercise. Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring. Sweets are not the enemy. You’ve heard about the allure of forbidden fruit? Well, that just means the more you ban something, the bigger its temptation. So let your kids eat sweet treats every once in a while, but balance it with good healthy foods as well like fruits and vegetables.

Margie, a 48 year old writer from Minneapolis, MN believes in the idea of making food fun for her children by letting them be creative with their food. “My kids have frequently come up with unique combinations of food or requested sauces or made combinations of sauces. At first, I tried to dissuade them from what I thought were disgusting combinations but ultimately decided if they ate what was on their plate, what do I care? Within reason of course. I monitor how much salt goes on an apple or how much mayo on a burger, etc., but children have different tastes than adults. Different textures and flavors don't appeal to all of us so I found it was easier to let them explore and develop an adventurous palate rather than turn them into picky eaters and have dinnertime battles.”

Poor diet in children has been linked to not only health problems but is thought to be a contributing factor to Attention Deficit Disorder and maybe even criminal behaviour. Food helps in the creation of healthy blood that fuels the creation brain cells. It would stand to reason then that a lifetime of poor diet would create imbalances in brain chemistry that could result in mental illness potentially expanding into dangerous behaviours.

One of the best ways of getting kids in the habit of eating well is to introduce a variety of foods to them and when they find ones they like, pair those with something new on their plate.

Cheryl, who works as technical support for a product engineering company in Rockville, Maryland has a son who loves rice. My nephew seems to love it as well. Maybe it’s because of its small size. Kids can just pick up one at a time and its fun for them…even if most of it ends up on the carpet, their clothes and even in their hair. The key here is to make food fun and enjoyable.

So using rice as an example, you know that your child will be eating at least one thing on his plate. This gives you the opportunity to introduce something new along side the rice. A kid will never say no to French fries so how about, as way of introducing vegetables into their diet you cut up some zucchini into fry-like strips and cover them in bread crumbs? You can then bake them in the oven and let you child dip them in tomato sauce as a substitute for ketchup. Sometimes a little creativity (aka: deception) is necessary to get kids on the path to good eating. Just because something looks like junk food a kid will be more open to trying it.

Denise, a 26 year old home maker from Etobicoke, Ontario subscribes to this idea for her two kids. “Pasta is a favorite, but broccoli and carrots are never a problem if you just melt a bit of butter over them. Sometimes they ask for salt and I will pretend to put some. They think there getting salt added on but they're just getting the idea of it because I don’t put the salt.”

So while it seems that every day the media is coming out with new commercials designed to tempt our children into diabetic comas and heart attacks by the time they’re twenty, it’s reassuring to know that we can fight back but getting our kids on the right path to good eating early. While the stuff advertised on TV can be fun on occasion, they grow up knowing that healthy eating can be delicious and fun too.