By Maura Jones, RD, LD, CDE, Dietitian
Parents who push healthy foods often battle food wars of refusal and resistance. The best policy is role modeling and persistence — offer as much of a colorful food variety as you can. Even if you don’t sit to family meals every night, eat together when you can. Try not to react when your kids refuse the “healthy” parts of meals. Act nonchalant; minimize the attention you give to their refusing food, even though it may be challenging after you worked at putting together a family meal.
A good strategy is to playfully challenge (or require them when they refuse) to take a bite to chew and taste a food.Allow them to spit out bites of foods they are not ready to swallow. (Just have them use a napkin to reinforce table manners!) If you promise your kids they will not be required to eat foods they do not want to eat, they’ll be more game to play along with food tasting. Help kids feel good about being willing to try new tastes, even if they don’t end up liking everything.
If there are foods your kids refuse, remind them we all need to taste a food at least 10 times, before we can truthfully “dislike” it.Taste buds need time to adapt and many exposures to new tastes. Kids (and many adults) have strong reactions to bitter, sour and pungent tastes so encourage experimenting! Remind kids that adding spices and new combinations will allow their full palate of taste buds to develop. Recall some examples of foods you would not eat as a kid and now love.
A worthy goal for the family eating plan is to offer at least one colorful fruit and or vegetable at each of three meals a day. Include at least one food your child usually eats. Limiting access to foods between meals and planned snacks helps them come to meals hungry. Keep it interesting and fun; invite them to help in the kitchen and talk about the food’s color, texture, smells and tastes. Get creative and make a family game of keeping track of how many times they taste new foods. Rest assured they will be well nourished at the end of the day, even if they currently refuse to eat some of the food groups.
Talking to Teens
Is your teen’s idea of breakfast a sweet cereal or a pop tart and your usual lunch pizza? Where is the color and fiber? We all need colorful foods like green, red, yellow, orange and purple fruits and vegetables for good nutrition.
Ask an athlete how they stay on top of their game. They will tell you about their love of foods that are close to nature for power, energy and fuel. Your body is like a fancy sports car that needs premium gas or it will be sluggish with shakes, rattles, knocks and pings! Think of the nutrition you get from vegetables and fruitsas premium fuel much like a sports car needs. They help you grow and give smooth energy for muscle and brain power. The energy is slowly released to help keep you from getting too hungry between meals and snacks. Our bodies run best with foods close to nature.
True hunger comes on slowly and is patient. The next time you feel hungry for a certain food, tune in to your stomach. Is it head hunger or boredom? Sometimes people eat when they are not really hungry. When our usual foods are low in premium fuel, we won’t feel satisfied and we’ll get food cravings.