Annabel Karmel's Tips
for Feeding Picky Eaters
Anyone with children knows that when it comes to eating, fuss is often high on the menu. It's not surprising then that we can lose heart when our children turn their noses up at anything with greens in it, or when they will only allow plain pasta with grated cheese to pass their lips! But rest assured, you're not alone. In fact, 90% of children go through at least one lengthy stage of being picky.
In their first year babies grow more rapidly than at any other time in their life, so it's relatively easy to get them to eat new foods. But by the second year your child is becoming his own person who'll soon figure out that refusing food is a great way of getting attention. The good news is that nearly all children who have previously been "good eaters" do go back to eating well. The bad news though, is this is usually on their terms -- and on their timescale.
Try and make mealtimes a really positive experience. One of the most important things is to try and hide your frustration. Praise your child excessively when he eats well or tries something new. You may need to ignore some bad eating behavior to refocus attention on good behavior. This may make mealtimes less stressful for you too.
Disguise vegetables by blending them into a tomato sauce and serve with pasta. You can double bluff by leaving a few chunky vegetables in the sauce for your child to pick out; then he'll never suspect that there are still some there.
KIDS IN THE KITCHEN
Most children adore cooking, and tasks like squeezing fresh orange juice or cracking eggs are well within the capabilities of a young child. It's amazing how being involved in the planning and preparation of a meal can stimulate a child's appetite.
MAKE FOOD ATTRACTIVE AND FUN
Give small portions; it's not good to overload your child's plate. Also, children generally prefer smaller pieces of food so it's a good idea to make foods like mini burgers with new potatoes, small broccoli florets and mini carrots. They also like eating from small containers, so use ramekins to prepare individual portions of foods like fish pie or cottage pie. You can also make a batch and freeze them.
HEALTHY JUNK FOOD
Create your own "Healthy Junk Food". Make pizza bases using mini English muffins, foccacia bread or pita bread and you can let your child choose his favorite toppings. Make burgers using good quality lean beef. I have my own delicious version of chicken nuggets where you marinate the chicken in buttermilk, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and lemon and then coat in breadcrumbs and parmesan.
BLIND MAN'S GRUB
If you have a little "junk food junkie" who refuses to try anything new, play a game where you blindfold your child and give him several foods to taste -- some old favorites and some new -- and see if he can identify what they are!
START AS YOU MEAN TO CONTINUE
Start your baby off on fresh baby food rather than jars of processed food with a shelf life of two years. If they are used to a variety of fresh flavors early on, they are much less likely to become picky eaters when you try to integrate them into family meals.
DON'T MAKE A FUSS
If your child refuses to eat anything other than junk food, chill out. He will soon find there's not much point making a fuss if you don't react.
Sticker charts usually work best from around 2 years. Keep portions absolutely miniscule and at first give a sticker for just trying the food. The rewards for completing a sticker chart should not be food based (e.g. chocolate) as this gives the wrong message. Ideally, they should be small and affordable (you may be doing sticker charts for quite a long time!). The reward could simply be staying up later than usual to watch their favorite TV show or a trip to watch their favorite team play football.
I make lots of ethnic foods like quesadillas, teriyaki salmon, Thai style chicken Curry, Stir Fries. Chinese and Japanese style food is very popular and it's even more appealing if you serve it with child-friendly chopsticks which are joined at the top. You can buy these or make your own from ordinary chopsticks by rolling up a piece of paper and wedging it between the two sticks, then securing with an elastic band.
Eating with the whole family whenever possible can really make a difference. Personally, I think that taking the focus off your child's eating and having lots of social chat at the table is helpful. Avoid using mealtimes to assert your authority. If there is a lecture to give choose another time.
After school is a great time to get your child to eat something healthy as they generally come home starving. The trouble is that most children will grab a cookie or some potato chips. Try to have something ready prepared on the table. Even if it's just cut up fruit on a plate rather than whole fruit in a bowl or carrot and cucumber sticks with a dip. It's quick and easy to make delicious wraps, pita pockets or pasta salads and it's a good idea to have a low shelf in the fridge from which children can help themselves to tasty healthy snacks.