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6 strategies for staying sane with a picky eater:
• Skip the labels: Calling a child a picky eater has negative associations. Try something less loaded like choosy chowhound or discerning diner. Better yet, try not to mention it at all.
• Stay neutral: Avoid yelling, nagging, and bribing, which are likely to backfire. Take the drama out of dinner: simply serve a meal, have a conversation about another subject, and clear plates with uneaten food without showing emotion.
• Accommodate, within reason: A child's particular palate should not dominate the dinner table. That said, make sure there's something offered that your child likes.
• Offer healthy options: Michael Pollan's mantra: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. These tips are worth keeping in mind when making meals. Unsure about what makes a balanced diet? Visit My Plate for ideas.
• Experiment with seasonings and textures: Dipping veggies in salad dressing can turn a no-go food into a go-to food. Steamed carrots may get passed over while roasted ones are gobbled up.
• Relax: Remember, once the food hits the table, your work is done. So let your kid do his job and enjoy your dinner.
By Sarah Henry
Why all the food fussiness?
Some children are fussy because they are especially sensitive to sensory input, like the son of food writer Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules. As a youngster, Isaac would only eat bland, beige or white food as a way, his dad discovered, to reduce sensory input. Happily, most kids, outgrow such food aversions linked to this sensitivity, and Isaac has, too. The college student's acute sense of taste guides him in the kitchen — and makes him a keen critic of others cooking, including his dad's.
Pollan isn’t the only foodie father with a picky eater. In his book Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater, Matthew Amster-Burton chronicles how, at an early age, his daughter Iris packed away pad Thai and spicy enchiladas, spinach and Brussels sprouts. Amster-Burton assumed it was because of his culinary skills and no-compromise approach to child feeding. Every seasoned parent knows how this story turns out: at age 2, Iris suddenly developed strong opinions about what she’d eat — mostly plain, white foods without any sauce — her dad’s preference for spicy food be damned.
Iris's about-face didn't freak him out: a limited eating range may frustrate parents but it’s not a medical problem, in the vast majority of cases, , although there is evidence that picky-eaters tend to weigh less than non-picky eaters. (The case of the British girl who ate exclusively chicken nuggets was a medical issue, and one in which earlier intervention of some sort was called for. Also, some behavior dubbed "picky eating" may actually be a response to an intolerance or allergy to a food. If you suspect this could be the reason for your child's choosiness, you should consult a pediatrician.)
Amster-Burton checked with another source — his mom — and discovered that for about seven years he only ate Cheerios, mac ‘n cheese, pizza, white chicken meat (if it didn’t touch anything else), and PB&J's. Amster-Burton isn’t the first parent to pass on his particular palate. Research reveals that a child may well inherit food fussiness and fear of new food, according to a 2007 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
It's frustrating to have a fussy eater when you're the one responsible for putting a meal on the table that everyone in the family can eat. But rather than “hide” unfavorite foods (a controversial practice) or make two meals, Amster-Burton looked for way to satisfy his taste buds and his kid’s.
Hot sauce helped. And time. Now 8 years old, Iris is open to all kinds of tastes. "She likes scallions and cilantro in anything, and no longer cares about one food touching another, though she's still not a fan of green vegetables," he says. "I had nothing to do with this transformation; I just waited around until she got bored with white food."
Most kids, Satter says, do outgrow their finicky food ways. Who knows, maybe the child with definite opinions about food will turn into a teen who cooks the family meal.A parent can dream.
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