My son is a very picky eater. It’s a struggle to get vegetables into him, and there are only certain meats that he’ll even try. I worry that he’s not getting enough of the vitamins he needs. Should I force him to eat even if he doesn’t want to?
Short answer? No.
Long form: Forcing kids to eat sets them up for all kinds of icky problems having to do with food as they get older. Stressing them out over what they’re eating or not eat can do the same. We have a nation of overweight kids and adults, a lot of it having to do with awkward psychological connections to food.
So in my not at all professional opinion, we need to lay off the dinner time battles.
I think it’s fair to say that just about every kid goes through a picky eating phase. The keyword there is “phase.” It won’t last forever, and that’s important to remember.
But what do you do while your kid is going through this phase? Well, there are a few tricks that I’ve picked up.
- Fake ‘em out. You can puree vegetables and sneak them into kid favorites. Cauliflower makes awesome mashed “potatoes.” Butternut squash mixes fabulously with cheese sauce for some nutrient packed mac and cheese. You can even mix spinach with brownie batter. The vast majority of my sneaky meals come from Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious. See if the library has it and try out a couple of the recipes on your family.
- Institute a “One-Bite” rule. In my house, everyone has to take at least one bite of each food for dinner, whether it’s something they think they like or not. I tell my children that tastes change after a while, so it’s important to keep trying things, even if they know it’s something they don’t like.
- Don’t offer alternatives. My girls went through a phase where all they wanted was junk. Simple solution; I got rid of all the junk. When all they had to snack on was carrot sticks, berries and string cheese, that’s what they snacked on.
- Vitamins. Aside from multivitamins, you can also get vitamins that provide a full serving of fruits and vegetables. This is what I fall back on with my daughter, who hates everything that’s green.
- Get creative. It’s all in the presentation, really. Instead of laying the broccoli next to the mashed potatoes, stick them up in the potatoes, tell the kids they’re trees and let them pretend to be dinosaurs and eat the trees. Make tuna salad into the shape of a fish, and use cut cucumbers for scales. Think outside of the box and see what you come up with.
One final word on this, if you have concerns about your child’s diet or nutrition, if your child is overweight, or has any type of dietary restrictions, make sure you check with your physician for the final word.