May 07

Dealing With Picky Eaters

Childhood nutrition is probably worse than it has ever been, which is clearly illustrated by ever increasing health problems, among our youth, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, behavior problems, mood disorders and much more.  One of the beginning signals of these eating-related health challenges is what we could call “picky eater syndrome.”  Mothers are clearly responsible for what their children eat or don’t eat so it is more than fair to say they are the ones who have the ability to prevent picky eating.  Yes, mothers are busy, but is there any job more important than raising a healthy child?

There are several factors that must be mentioned when considering how to prevent or reverse picky eating.


  1. Nutritional Knowledge – Many mothers do not know enough about what is healthy food and what is not so healthy. They rationalize that their child is eating well enough, when in fact they are not. This       often leads to the child’s diet having too much saturated fat, too much sugar and too many refined carbohydrates. This can lead very quickly to food addictions for these foods, which causes an emotional dependence, leading directly to “picky eating.”


  1. Lack of Time – Many mothers feel they are too busy to plan carefully to buy and prepare healthy foods. However, a little planning can go a long way, which can actually save time and avoid making hasty and unhealthy food decisions.


  1. Battle of the Wits – Often picky eaters are using food as just one of the ways they are trying to control the household. When mothers give in too easily on food and other matters, they are creating a long-term problem that will be more difficult to reverse the longer it is allowed to exist.


  1. Taste Preferences – Many taste preferences are actually inherited and can be difficult to overcome. The wise mother takes note of these preferences early on and tries to find healthier foods that have a similar taste to the unhealthy ones.


  1. Involvement – Dr. Antonia Demas, a brilliant nutritionist from Cornell University, has developed a school food program that is enormously successful. It involves allowing students to learn about foods from around the world and encourages them to create new dishes. Mothers could also involve their children more by offering three healthy choices and allowing the child to choose the one they want.       Helping with preparations and cooking also helps. Ownership is a key to getting children to be more receptive to a wider selection of foods.


  1. The Doctor’s List – Sometimes a little trickery can go a long way.       If mom has a list from the doctor of approved foods and simply says, “Oh, I’m sorry, Honey, that’s not on our doctor’s list.” At young ages, this can actually work.



There are many foods which children find unacceptable and the following is just a partial list of these “non=favorites”.


* Broccoli                          * Onions                      * Brown rice

* Brussels sprouts             * Garlic                       * Unsweetened cereal

* Cauliflower                    * Peppers                     * Fish

* Beans                             * Cabbage                   * Spinach


These are some of the healthiest foods that a child can eat so it is very important to finds ways to make these foods taste better and thus become more acceptable. Here are some to the tried and proven ways that creative mothers have achieved this goal.


Sauces– Many mothers use cheese sauces to put on top of broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and even spinach. This often makes these vegetables much more palatable to the picky eater.


Burgers and meatloaf– Using ground turkey as the main ingredient many mothers add chopped onions, garlic, peppers and mushrooms to make delicious burgers or meatloaf. Sometimes they add other things like cheese and tomato sauce, which adds even more flavor and nutrients.


Dips– There are many types of dips such as humus, spinach and artichoke, which can be served with beans, peppers, carrots, celery and whole grain crackers. These are great snacks loaded with lots of nutrition.


Almond butter– Using almond butter, which is healthier than peanut butter, moms can slice apples, celery and other fruits and vegetables to be used to dip and eat the almond butter. This is tasty and is filled with vitamins, minerals and healthy oils.


Soups– A great way to get picky eaters to eat healthy foods is to make a soup, especially one that starts with a soup they like. For example, tomato soup as a start can have healthy things added to it such as brown rice, peas and chopped vegetables.


Cereal– You should always start with unsweetened cereal and then add fruits, or honey, to make the cereal taste sweeter. The natural sugars are much better than the processed ones and whole grain cereals are superior to the processed ones. Remember that whole wheat is not the same as whole grain where the shells are still on the grain.


Getting healthy food into your child is as important as any other responsibility a mother has. You don’t want to watch your child get Type 2 diabetes in their 20’s or cancer or heart disease in middle age because of the poor food choices you made when they were young. If every mother did better at this we could actually reverse the health care crisis facing our county within the next twenty or thirty years. It really is that serious of a problem that mothers need to be aware of as soon as possible.


Written by Dr. Charles Bens – Healthy at Work, Sarasota, Florida