Training Children to Eat Well

What to feed an infant is pretty straightforward, and toddlers tend to eat whatever you give them, but as they grow up you may discover the frustrating phenomenon of picky eating. Nancy Piho, author of “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything, warns: “It’s not always pretty!”

No, it’s not. Sometimes, it gets quite ugly.

As the proud (and somewhat harried) mother of a 3 year old and a 5 year old, it seems the only acceptable food choices are the Familiar and the Full-of-Sugar. Definitely not seeing any octopus in my future.

What is the secret to turning out the “good eaters?” Nancy Piho says that the key is to put firm and healthful eating habits in place from the beginning, and then stick to them, even when the going gets tough. Easier said than done? I don’t know, I’ll have to try it out on child number three.

photo: Dr. Ann Wigmore

But it’s never too late to try instilling good habits. Ms. Piho presents 8 good eating tips to implement in your home:

1. Sit down! Now is the time to teach your kids that meals play an important role in their day. Make breakfast, lunch and dinner a definite sit-down-to-eat occasion, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.

2. Doesn’t this look good? Talk it up! Comment on the yummy smells from the oven, or how pretty and juicy the steak looks. Young children “eat with their eyes” just like adults do.

3. It’s a dinner, not a diner! That means, no short order cooking! From their earliest eating days, children can and should eat what everyone else at the table is eating.

4. Focus on the whole meal. If you’re serving chicken, peas and rice for dinner, then your child should have chicken, peas and rice on their plate, too. What if they scarf down the rice and want more? Make them wait until they have a bite or two of the rest of the items in the meal.

5. Spice it up. Don’t be afraid to let your child sample spicier dishes, like those found in Indian or Mexican cuisines. If it’s really too hot, stir a little milk or sour cream into their portion, so that they still get the flavor of the dish without the full effect of the heat.

6. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If at first they dislike spinach or Brussels sprouts or broccoli, try, try again. Researchers have found that up to 15 separate introductions of a food may be required before a child will be accepting of it. Wait several days or weeks, but don’t drop the offending item out of the menu entirely.

7. Pour out the juice. Kiddie beverages all have one thing in common: they are sweet to the taste. Don’t start your little one off believing that drinks have to be sweet to taste good. Stick to plain milk and water.

8. And nix the other kiddie products. If it’s a food product made for and marketed to kids, chances are it’s going to be inferior in taste and flavor to comparable adult products. Avoid these and you will be way ahead in the game of preventing picky eating.

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