I have worked with children and families for over twenty years in numerous settings. One common complaint I hear over and over again from parents is this, “Johnny hates his vegetables. I can’t get him to eat anything that’s good for him.” Let’s be realistic, sodium, starch, additives and sugar taste good. I will never forget when my sister and I took my then 7 month old niece to Dairy Queen. While we were eating our sundaes, the baby was drinking her bottle in her stroller. My sister gave her baby a tiny taste of ice-cream. The next thing we knew, she tossed her bottle on the ground and was reaching for the ice-cream with her chubby, little outstretched hand. She got a sweet taste of the good stuff and wanted more.
Once children reach the ages of four, five six and beyond and they have grown accustomed to the taste of empty calories, it is very challenging to introduce them to carrots and broccoli. Looking at the school snacks for children in the grocery store, everything comes in packages and are loaded with sugar. Those pre-packaged Lunchables are filled with chemicals and offer no real sustenance, but yet they are a very popular lunch choice. The reason being is because they are convenient and I can understand this as busy as life is. The concern for children that are being raised on pre-packaged and fast foods, it is very unlikely they will want fresh, unprocessed, quality meals and snacks as time goes on. The children who are eating fruits, whole grains are vegetables, are usually the ones who come to school with plastic containers filled with grapes, carrot sticks, cheese and yogurt. Sugary juices, candy and cookies are rarely options and if so, are only offered as a treat once in a while. I have seen children whose preference is homemade chick pea granola bars (yes, this parent actually makes these) as well as children who will not touch an apple with a metre stick, much less a chick pea granola bar. However, offer the latter child a donut hole and that’s a “whole” other story. Treats are fun, treats taste good. We all love our cupcakes, but when these are the only things that taste good to a child, Houston, we have a problem. Those who are addicted to empty calories have difficulty focusing, low energy and can become irritable throughout the day. Can you blame them? Their little bodies and minds are not getting the nutrition they need to function properly.
I know children can be picky eaters, and things are often easier said than done, but my advice is always the same. Offer your child small portions of healthy snacks and meals so as not to overwhelm them. Our pallets our unique. I have seen children who love anything from seaweed, curry chicken with cous cous, snap peas and cherry tomatoes. Keep searching until you find the healthy foods they will enjoy. My sister was a very “selective” eater as a child, and to this day she still hates brussel sprouts. Never try to force food on a child, this only proves to be a struggle. Most importantly, instil healthy habits from a young age and be a good role model yourself. Offer treats for special occasions or in moderation, because once they toss that bottle for that chocolate sundae and this becomes a habit, it can be a long, hard road back to healthy choices.