|Izzy eating a grain free, no processed sugar cookie- it takes time to develop a palate that appreciates real food, but it can be done!|
It's a problem with an obvious solution. You feed your toddler processed chicken nuggets (or another of the offensive foods listed above...). They develop a taste for the processed salt and MSG (or MSG like substances, but more on that in a sec...). They start rejecting healthier dishes like roasted chicken. And, the fatal step, the parent caves and serves them what they want, "so they'll at least eat something."
Again, I am not above reproach. I fell into the same trap with my first- we were big fans of Tysons chicken nuggets. And I can attest to how hard it was to break her of that taste for processed foods. She is still a far pickier eater than her brother (who will eat just about anything, except for sushi... still working on that one!). But she has improved markedly- when you ask her what her favorite food is, she's likely to say one of two things- mac and cheese (and she means the stuff I make, from real milk, butter, and cheese, not the boxed stuff), or roasted chicken. Or hamburgers- that girl can pound a burger:)
My story is even more reason to start now, if you are pregnant or your child has yet to start solids. Start your child with whole foods- if I have another, he/she will start solids later and they will NOT eat processed grain cereals. I will start them with egg yolks, bone stock, and liver, gradually adding more meats and vegetables well cooked with healthy fat. Almost out of luck I avoided most of the pitfalls of processed foods with Oliver during the period when he was most impressionable (if you want to call severe food allergies luck...). With the (possible) next one I would like the process to be more intentional and to start sooner.
But if you already have a picky eater, here are some tips:
- Know it will be a struggle, and resolve to stay strong.
- Avoid all processed foods, but allow your child to salt to taste with real sea salt (Celtic or Real Salt brands are best). This may sate their desire for salty foods while they adjust, and sea salt has lots of necessary trace minerals.
- Incorporate new foods gradually and often- even if they reject them at first, keep offering, but don't force! It took me about 6 months to get Oliver to consistantly drink apple kefir, and I have been gradually fermenting it longer (the longer it ferments the more sour it tastes) to reduce the sugar. He has progressively drank more, to a point where I have to limit him. Izzy wouldn't do apple kefir, but out of nowhere this spring asked to taste my kombucha (it was Gingeraide from GT's, not my usual homemade stuff). She liked it, so I started making ginger at home. Now I can usually get her to drink anywhere from a few sips to about 4 oz a day. Baby steps, right!
- Make healthy foods the ONLY option. We're to the point where we're even limiting fruit, but at first having a lot of fruit on hand was the key. Want a snack? Eat an apple. Keep the options to things that have one or two ingredients and don't contain any hydrogenated oils or processed sugars, or homemade snacks. Katie Kimball's Healthy Snacks To Go ebook is a great source for healthy, easy to make snacks. For meals, don't go out of your way to fix things you know your kids hate. However, learn to make things that mimic the junk food they like. I make really easy chicken strips using chicken breast (thigh meat would be better, and remember that it's best to eat the whole bird) and corn meal. Dredge the chicken and shallow fry in bacon fat or lard over high heat. Or there's my homemade mac and cheese recipe. Then occasionally add dishes that are more adventurous or different, served with sides you know they like.
- Eat on a schedule. It doesn't have to be rigid, just something like "no snacks for 2 hours after meals."
- Practice this phrase: "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." During what I call the detox phase. I find this phrase helpful in parenting in general. If your kids are used to getting a treat every time you ____, it's going to be hard to change this habit. Because they're going to whine, and while I seem to be impervious to this (it's a gift...), this causes most moms either extreme annoyance to the point where they will do ANYTHING to get it to stop, or guilt because they feel they are depriving their kids of some essential element of childhood. To not mince words- get over it. The more you succumb to whining, the more your kids will whine. Stand strong, and they will learn that treats are something for truly special occasions.
- Another popular phrase at my house "you don't need, you want." Often in response to "I need a treat."
- Lastly, remember that your child's momentary desire for junk food is far less important than their long term health. You are doing what is best for your child. The right road is often harder to travel.