Guest blog on Neurotrition website - How do we get our picky eaters to eat vegetables?
I was invited to write a guest blog post on my colleague, Orsha Magyar's website - www.neurotrition.ca. This is a great website to look at regarding mental health and brain health, in general. She also helps support people who have had issues with addictions (including food addiction). I invite you to go check out her great site. Here is a longer version of my blog post on her site. Enjoy!!
I got into this whole ‘nutrition thing’ late in my children’s lives (they were both young teenagers). Had I been the perfect parent, I would have started hard core when they were infants and changed almost everything I did in terms of feeding my children. Sadly, I must join the hordes of "imperfect" parents who haven’t won the Parent of the Year award for, well, their whole career of parenting. So, the best I can do is work to change my children’s nutritional intake now and be able to see the changes first hand as their moods, behaviors, and ultimately, our relationships change. I believe if there is anything we can do to make our lives easier, this is an easy one! We just need to make these nutrients available to both ourselves and our children, and we will all benefit with better brain health.
In preparing for this blog post I looked up some studies that speak to my point. I wanted to see how nutrition, specifically, is important to brain health. The first study of interest was the Minnesota Starvation Experiments (1950). Symptoms as a result of this study depriving humans of nutrients were:
Inability to concentrate
As a psychologist, I have found that THE most common issue that parents need support in for their children are anxiety and the ability to concentrate. As a parent, I don’t want my children (or myself) to experience ANY of the above symptoms!
Another study (Jacka, et. al, 2011) followed children aged 11-18 years over 2 school years and found a change in diet quality was associated with a change in mental health.
In all studies, a ‘change in diet quality’ means moving away from processed, boxed foods to REAL food. As Michael Pollan states, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I know I don’t need to convince you that the best way to get our nutrients is through fruits and vegetables, so how do we get our picky children to eat the stuff. Here are some suggestions:
As the adults in our children’s lives, we need to be good role-models. If we are not eating the things we expect them to eat, why would they be the risk-takers?
This quote has changed the way I feed my family: “It is the parents job to decide what to eat. It is the child’s job to decide how much.” Once I started serving one meal with all kinds of different colors and flavors, my children’s tastes grew quickly.
Smoothies! (or juicing but you don’t get the fiber this way). You can throw anything into a smoothie and disguise it with blueberries. My kids love the bright green color and kind of wear it as a badge of honor around their friends, as long as I throw in some lime to zing it up.
Cook and puree vegetables – add to meatballs, meat patties, meatloaf, or pasta sauce; freeze in ice cube trays and add to smoothies. Make your own broth or even when boiling pasta or cooking sauces, throw in sea vegetables, leafy greens, etc. and then either remove or puree into the sauce.
Make a veggie tray and let them eat dip (preferably home-made or hummus for protein and good fats). Just have it laying out in a place in the kitchen where kids can easily reach the veggies, then pay them no mind. It can seem that when we make a big deal about what we want our kids to eat, they’ll make a big deal about not wanting to eat it.
Put out a salad bar for dinner once a week allowing your children to make their own version of a salad and you know it’s still healthy because there are only nutritious choices available. This makes suggestion #2 above very easy to do.
Garden - let your kids choose the vegetables you grow and help you with the whole process. If this feels too much, support your local farmers at the various Farmer’s Markets in your area – good quality produce and good prices and a fun shopping trip with the family.
Vary your cooking methods – steam, roast, stir-fries, bake veggies into “chips” (i.e., kale, carrots, sweet potatos, etc.).
Finally, don’t give up! It has been said that it takes 10 exposures to foods before a person will change their minds. Friends of mine ask that their children take a “polite bite” of every food that is on the table. Polite means they try it and they don’t make a big deal if they don’t like it. Change does happen eventually. The goal is not to get them to eat broccoli today, it is to get them eating it down the road.
If you are looking for more support around your picky eater, please visit my contact page and set up a parent coaching session. There's lots of ideas out there and I can help you to wittle them down to the ones that will work best for your family.