Authors: Nimali Fernando, MD, MPH and Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP
I read this book seeking ideas to help my four-year-old son overcome his very selective eating habits. I wanted to learn, “how to raise a healthy, adventurous eater (in a chicken-nugget world),” as the back of the book describes. And I came away with some great strategies!
The book is organized into chapters according to age and stage (Birth to Six Months; Six to Eight Months; Nine to Fifteen Months; Sixteen to Twenty-four Months; The Twos; Threes; Ages Four to Six; and on to school-age children). I found great suggestions to not only help with my four-year-old who has struggled to eat a balanced diet for most of his life, but also help with my toddler and baby who are still developing their palates.
I love the combined background of the authors, who are also mothers. Nimali Fernando is a pediatrician who has focused much of her practice on nutrition and how to help kids try new foods. And Melanie Potock is a speech-language pathologist who has specialized in feeding issues. They know what it is like to start from ground zero with a child who literally will only eat one brand of french fries (and nothing else), and then expand their diet. And the book is filled with practical tips learned from their own experience.
My Big Takeaways
A feeding schedule is important to help children learn to recognize hunger cues. Grazing throughout the day “is an inconsistent response to feelings that are not often related to hunger. Instead your child may be snacking in response to fatigue, thirst, emotions, or boredom with food” (99). Also grazing can hinder healthy eating because often this means that kids are filling up on more-familiar, less-nutritious snack foods. Children usually feel the most adventurous about their eating when they are hungry, but not too hungry (201).
Avoid “food jags” or patterns of only eating a very few foods and strongly refusing everything else. Some suggestions the authors offer is to expose babies to many flavors; rotate foods often; offer small portions (to make things underwhelming); build familiarity by slowly introducing new foods and even playing with them; and remembering that uneaten food left on the plate is not wasted because it served its purpose in acclimating your child to that food (141-142). I’ve found that just getting used to a food on the plate is one step. Touching, smelling, or licking may be additional steps before a new food is actually tasted.
Tasting Time is a strategy to introduce new foods. The idea is that at a time when you would normally serve a snack, you introduce new foods or new spins on favorite foods. The authors say that kids usually are more adventurous outside of traditional mealtime, especially when you present it in a fun way. They recommend saying something like, “Try this neat food and tell me how it feels in your mouth!” (139). I’ve found personally that my son is most adventurous when we are offered samples at the grocery store or bulk store. He has tried things I never thought he would be willing to try, and we’ve even been able to incorporate new foods into his diet!
Involve kids in the grocery shopping. Kids may be more interested in new fruits and vegetables if they pick them out themselves. Also, you can have older kids help you read nutrition labels. The authors suggest asking your children to find a cereal with less than 5g of sugar per serving (185). This is a great idea that had me looking more carefully at what I buy.
Use the word “exploring” instead of “picky.” The authors explain, “Preschoolers are very aware of the language used around them, and hearing over and over that they are ‘picky’ may lead them to live up to that label. Before calling your preschooler picky, consider that there are more positive ways to express that your preschooler is not yet eating a wide variety of foods. Try calling him an ‘exploring eater’ or a ‘learning eater’ to give him the idea that his food experience can grow and change with time” (197).
How This Book Impacted My Mothering
Food and mealtimes have, at times, been stressful and a point of conflict for me and my son. This book has helped me relax and feel more confident in my approach. I’m not worried about my son in the long term because I’m committed to keep trying, and I know what resources I can turn to for help. My son’s diet continues to expand, and I’m hopeful, at some future day, I will actually see him sit and enjoy a salad!
QUESTION: What successful strategies have you used to help your children become adventurous eaters?
CHALLENGE: If you have a child who is struggling to eat a variety of food groups (or variety within a food group), select one of the strategies about introducing a new food this week.
Edited by Aubrey Degn.