kale salad with quinoa, carrots, and chickpeas
Many people struggle with feeding kids a healthier, more plant filled diet- some of you have asked if my kids have always eaten this way. When my daughter was born, I wasn’t health conscious at all; she would eat the basic american toddler foods like goldfish, Cheerios, pretzels, those weird chicken sausage fingers in a jar, etc. However, even when I was a conventional eater I always loved veggies- growing up we always had a huge garden (which as a poor family, was the way we were able to afford fresh produce). This helped me to grow up with a taste for vegetables and fruits, and I did give them to Carmela, too, in between the junk.
taco salad with beans, walnut “meat” and homemade thousand island
Broccoli, spicy foods, onions, brussels sprouts, Salvadorean, Ethiopian, Indian, Thai food…you name it, I let her try it. I think we, as adults, have these preconceived notions of “kids don’t like x y z” about spicy/intense foods, strong flavors, leafy greens, and vegetables, and we project these onto kids by not even offering those foods. Or, offering once and then upon the child’s refusal, never offering it again. Research has shown that it takes around 8 to 15 tries for kids to accept a new food as familiar.
miso eggplant, cucumber salad, garlic and walnut zucchini
Carmela had her picky phases like every kid (and adult!) but quickly grew out of them. I tried not to make a big deal or react negatively to her refusal/distaste for foods (mushrooms, onions, squash were big ones) because I felt like that created fear around food and made it a power struggle. We did always have a non- negotiable rule of tasting everything. This meant that even if she didn’t like mushrooms, she had to try a bite of mushrooms EACH time we had something with mushrooms. I casually told her things like, “I used to not like mushrooms, too. But I kept trying them, and now I love them! Imagine if I would have never tried them again, I would never have found out how delicious they were. How sad!”. Now, she loves mushrooms.
sharing some pomegranates
Cutting out the packaged snack foods and dairy was more tricky. It helped that when we stopped giving her those things, she stopped getting sick- chronic bronchitis, coughs, ear infections, were all the norm for a winter with us. In and out of the doctors office, picking up prescriptions, medicine, antibiotics, probiotics- it was all a stressful mess. This year she hasn’t even been sick one time, even though there’s been an especially bad strain of the flu running rampant through her school. She’s still slightly more picky than Vincent, though.
pulling parsnips from the garden- connecting with food through gardening was especially helpful in quelling pickiness.
With Vincent, I had already shifted towards healthier eating and ditched the snack foods I used to rely on, like Doritos, Twix bars, Red Bull, and Cheetos. Instead of the recommended rice cereal for a first food, I breastfed exclusively until 8 months, which is when we first introduced solid food. We started by letting him have sips of our green smoothies. I would take the straw out and put the end of it in his mouth. He learned how to drink through a straw this way and get a taste for fresh, raw greens.
banana, spinach, date, almond butter, hemp seeds smoothie
Also, I gave him soft foods like mashed avocado, pureed young coconut meat, smashed gooey persimmon, and veggie purees. At this point, I really gave it to him more to play with and to experiment with rather than for food. He nursed over two years, so I didn’t give him milk substitutes because they weren’t needed. My point is, his early childhood exposure to food was much healthier than Carmela’s, and I’m positive that’s where her residual pickiness comes from. But overall, she’s a fantastic eater and will happily devour almost everything.
still nursing at 2 years- the best source of nutrition hands down if you are able
If your child is older, don’t give up! My number one tip is to make sure everyone in the house is eating on the same page as much as possible. Don’t keep empty junk foods in the house, and give no other options other than the meals you cook. No short order chefs here. If there is no other option, your child will eventually eat what IS offered. I love Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, Disease Proof Your Child, where he states, “Children are not responsible for their poor eating habits. Their parents are…It is not necessary to coax them to eat or eat healthfully. In fact, battling with your child about food is counterproductive. The trick is to adhere to this one most important rule: only permit healthy food in your home. Children will eat whatever is available. They will not starve themselves to death; they adapt easily and learn relatively quickly to like the food that is offered.”
raw kale wrap with guacamole, sprouts, cucumber, and kraut. He loves these so much as a snack!
Consider this example that Dr. Fuhrman shares of a 5 year old whose favorite and only foods included macaroni and cheese, cookies, popcorn, and pretzels; and who is chronically sick with recurrent ear infections. Dr. Fuhrman convinced the mother to only offer whole, healthy foods in the house, and: “Billy was distressed for the next 24 hours and he did not eat. He complained and threw a tantrum. His mom, frantic and unhappy with my advice, phoned me. I convinced her to stick with it a little while longer. Billy eventually tried one or two healthy foods that were available, starting with an entire banana and a fresh corn on the cob. He hadn’t touched these foods since he was in diapers. Of course, Billy’s mom was still nervous that he was eating so little, but he ate enough food to maintain his weight. Within a few weeks he was consuming larger amounts of food, and within a short time, he was consuming the same number of calories as he had before, only now he was eating a healthy diet. Billy is no longer sick all the time and has actually learned to appreciate a wide variety of healthy food.”
blueberry smoothie + celery
There is a similar story under the hashtag #storieandelvis on @ellenfisher ‘s Instagram. Ellen explains, : “Storie is the little girl I babysit many many hours each week (33 hours straight today/yesterday as an example). I told her mother from the beginning that I will only watch her if we don’t bring any of her standard American diet (SAD) food into our house and that she’ll eat what we eat. Her mother said that was fine and in the beginning all she would eat was bananas from our stash (very picky child from beginning) So we gave her as many as she wanted, and slowly but surely (took over a month or so) she now eats EVERYTHING! Not even kidding she drinks greens smoothies, chews bites of my salads as Elvis does, eats plain zucchini, chews on celery and eats all the rainbow of fruits we have in our house. My husband @rawmaui_ang is convinced that no child will let themselves starve and eventually, IF ALL U HAVE IN THE HOUSE/all YOU are eating as example is FRUITS AND VEG, your child will learn to love those foods! Taste buds renew every two weeks peeps. But don’t expect your child to learn to eat healthy if you don’t eat healthy yourselves.”
Prepare fruits and vegetables different ways: raw, cooked, in soups, with something to dip them in, blended into smoothies or dressings, with healthy sauces on top like guacamole, hummus, and cashew cream. Keep trying and don’t give up. Cut the processed sugar, it’s so tricky for little bodies to process and messes with healthy tastebuds. Dates and maple syrup can help sweeten things up in a subtle way, while adding minerals. Try things like chia pudding with fresh fruit on top instead of dairy or sugar laced afternoon snacks. Roasted crispy chickpeas or kale chips instead of crackers and chips. Avocado with tamari and sesame seeds, nuts, seaweed are all favorite savory snacks here. Apples with almond butter and apple pie spice, toast with peanut butter and chia seed strawberry jam. Pack as much nutrition into meals as possible and lean heavily on whole, plant foods.
shopping together at the farmers market: our favorite family ritual
If you can, include your kids in planning, shopping for, and preparing food. In my experience it helps them be confident in themselves and more likely to venture out and try new things. It makes them excited about food! Let them wash lettuce, shell peas, snap asparagus, cut up fruit, smash avocados for guacamole, whisk vinaigrette, shred carrots. Talk to them about where the food comes from. When you eat together, talk about the textures, tastes, colors and smells of food. Foster appreciation and gratitude for it.
sharing a green smoothie
I hope this post helps you if you have a picky eater. If you’re feeling any guilt, let go of it as it does not serve you or your child. My kids aren’t perfect, they definitely have their moments of taking forever to eat or complaining (usually when they’re tired) but overall I think they do great. No matter where you’re at or where you want to get to with your kids, it’s all good. Even though transitioning may be frustrating, know that you are giving your child a beautiful gift for the future by not allowing picky eating. To get some ideas for healthy meals, you can check out this blog post: what Carmela eats, this blog post: what Vin eats, and the hashtags #vinoninsta and #carmelaslunch. Check out these mamas feeding their children whole, plant foods too: @sarahlemkus, @lonijane, @earthyandy, and @atmytable.