kids and eating habits
9 min read

Giving up, giving in or getting smart, feeding kids in the modern world

As a naturopath and nutritionist I thought I would be great at feeding my child when I finally had one. I knew all the right things a baby and growing child should eat, I had talked to countless parents in consultations over their children's eating habits and food ideas and I work with many teenage athletes with sports nutrition so I thought I was well prepared for the job. Teaching nutrition to clients is quite a different situation to feeding your own child and their myriad of friends that come over to play.

Of course I thought I would have one of those children who eats everything, happily munching on broccoli and tomatoes and getting all their important nutrients. This is where I should insert the laughing out loud emoji, as my daughter's nutritional aspirations melted into the real struggle of trying to feed a child healthy food when they have a distinct aversion of almost any green food that exists.

Children are an interesting group of gourmet snobs, liking and disliking the same food within the same day or week. I am not talking about a baby who is happy to eat all kinds of mashed up green foods and other vegetables, they can't speak yet and thus will happily gobble down most things on offer. I am talking about the child/teen who can clearly communicate their dislikes of almost anything you try to make them eat that may be ever so slightly on the spectrum of healthy.

In all honestly I am making this sound worse than it is, most kids, including my daughter will have their 'select' vegetables that they are willing to eat but often this is of limited variety and colour. The red, yellow and orange vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potato and even tomato are often on the YES list for kids as they a much sweeter and higher in natural carbohydrates than anything resembling the colour green contains. On a side note I once had 3 kids leave all the green coloured vegetable chips in a bowl, they were really a potato chip but came in 3 colours with a hint of vegetables used as colouring agents. No one ate the green ones! I then lined them up for a blind taste test and no one could tell the difference between the orange, yellow or green chip. Even if they had picked out the green chip in the test I think I would have fibbed and said it was the yellow one.

Yes, we all have friends who's kids LOVE vegetables and happily eat your entire vegetable and dip platter within minutes, but in my personal and professional experience this is not the norm. I do cry myself to sleep when this happens on occasion and dream of the day my daughter would chose a broccoli floret without an ultimatum or plea. If it makes you feel any better, I also have friends who's children live on pasta and white bread so there is hope for us all.

So enough of the talk over how kids and teens are hard to feed, the question is what to do about it. There are entire books devoted to hiding food in different pasta sauces, muffins and smoothies and I must admit this works a lot of the time. Science tells us that kids taste buds are much stronger than an adult or to be more exact, children have more taste buds than an adult, so they do have a larger reaction to bitter greens and vegetables than an adult would. What can you do to feed your picky eater a healthier diet I hear you ask? Below is the list of my top ways to get picky eaters eating.

  1. Chop vegetables into very small pieces and blend into sauces
  2. Make muffins using such ingredients as carrots and zucchini etc. there are some fabulous recipes on the internet. Please remember carrot cake and banana bread are not really healthy even though they sound it.
  3. Keep trying, it can take 20 times for a child to try a food before they start to like it
  4. Smoothies are a great way to get both fruit and vegetables into a child and most kids love a meal you can have with a straw, just make sure its not all fruit or dairy, use a variety of liquids to see what they prefer and get an avocado or some spinach into the mix
  5. Multivitamin powders/smoothies. There are great products on the market like Nuzest's Kids Good Stuff that have taken all the hard work out of the equation for you, blending fruits, vegetables and pea protein into a nutrient dense ready made smoothie or powder, these are a go to for me, especially when short of time. These are trialled and tested and taste friendly for small people.
  6. Popsicles are a great way to use leftover smoothies that become a fantastic afternoon or after dinner treat. My daughter loves helping me make them as well
  7. Getting your kids/teens involved in the kitchen, cutting, mixing and helping in general. I find the more my daughter helps with a meal the more she is willing to try new things and eat a greater variety. I often teach her about the nutritional value of what we are eating and that makes it more inspiring for her to try something new or different.
  8. Baked vegetables are a favourite at my house, cut them into shapes resembling chips/fries if you need to give them the extra motivation.
  9. Eating with family and friends. Sitting down and having a proper meal with family can motivate kids to try new things when they get to see others eating and enjoying the food. Not rushing meals, eating in front of the TV or eating in the car can go a long way to great food habits.
  10. Removing packaged and sugary foods from the diet will eventually break the 'triggers' for sweet foods and allow the taste buds to be stimulated by other flavours.
  11. Education is key. Explaining why healthy food is important and what it can do for a growing body I find to be great motivation for kids and teens. I love when I get to over hear them explaining what you taught them to their friends too.

My last piece of advice is to not underestimate how much they do want to try and be healthy, sometimes their taste buds just need to calm down a bit and we as parents needs to find some patience and healthy fun options rather than getting frustrated by the whole thing and giving in to junk food instead.