WHITNEY: Tips on raising an adventurous eater
One night, a few hours after an early dinner, Olivia needed a snack.
So we went to the fridge and I went through the options with her. Yogurt? No. Cheese stick? No. Fruit? No. Well, what then?
“That leafs,” she said, pointing at a bag of baby spinach.
I side-eyed her and said, “Are you serious?”
“PWEASE!?” she replied, so I gave her the bag of spinach.
She took off back the living room, where she parked it on the carpet and joined me in watching Adventure Time while munching on leaves of raw spinach straight from the bag as if they were potato chips.
I’ve been telling this story with a bit too much smugness, because I’m admittedly proud of Olivia’s budding love for fruits and veggies.
But when I told this to my parents, my mom reminded me that I’m lucky not to deal with a picky eater ... like me.
It’s true. I was a super picky eater when I was a kid. I wouldn’t even eat pizza until I was in high school. I finally caved to the peer pressure during a group project, when I’d finally had enough of asking someone’s mom to order me something separate. That opened the door and nowadays there’s pretty much nothing I won’t eat.
So, given my own background, what do I know about picky eating and raising an adventurous eater? This is what I’ve learned so far.
- Start with the basics. When it came time to introduce Olivia to solids, we started with really simple things. Mashed avocado, yogurt, applesauce, cottage cheese, shelled edamame. We steered clear of meat, salt, sugar and processed foods for the first year. Some food experts suggest this helps kids develop a palate for more diverse flavors.
- Give them control. We sort of followed the ideas of baby-led weaning when we started feeding Olivia solids. We didn’t do much pureeing and straining. We mostly fed her what we were already eating — cut up smaller and scattered across her high chair tray — and we let her feed herself. Now she’s very independent at the table, often demanding “Eeyah’s own spoon.”
- Let them help you prep. I remember the first time my mom made me chop a salad. I was expecting the lettuce to feel slimy and disgusting. I was surprised and intrigued when it didn’t, and it wasn’t long before I tried it myself. Kids take pride in the things they make. The same is true with food. Getting them involved demystifies the ingredients and gives them a confidence boost as well.
- Don’t shame them. We went to Chuck E. Cheese one night when I was about 9 and my dad was trying to cajole me into eating a tiny slice of pizza. I think a monetary bribe was involved. But I just couldn’t do it, and I felt really bad afterwards. Don’t put that much pressure on your picky eater. It makes the stakes too high each time the potential to try something new arises. Let them go at their own pace.
- If at first you don’t succeed ... I’m still trying to get Olivia to eat potatoes and squash. I offer them to her every time we have them — to no avail, but I’m still trying. If your kid denies a food once, don’t be afraid to offer it again the next time you serve it, especially if it’s prepared differently. Again, don’t pressure them to eat, but suggest they might like it better this time because you used a different sauce or fried it instead of steamed it. Try, try, try again.