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Monday, September 7, 2009

First, a welcome to Encouragement for Today readers. I have a devotion running today on helping kids who are afraid. God has been faithful to us!!!

I'm continuing my month-long September of Tips today with some suggestions on how to get picky eaters to eat. As you can imagine, there is much more to this issue than 10 tips can address. I know what a challenge this is, and don't presume to have all the answers.

I remember with crystal clarity the day my approach to dealing with picky eaters changed. I was making cheese enchilada for dinner, consisting of cheese and green chilies rolled in corn tortillas then topped with red chili enchilada sauce. The sauce was very mild, since I don’t like spicy foods. In spite of that, I mentally reviewed what I could serve the kids as an alternative, assuming they wouldn’t like the enchiladas.

Before I could open a box of macaroni and cheese for my 4 and 2 year old sons, I caught myself. I’m not going to start down this road of making separate meals, I thought. They will eat what we eat.

So that night, we all sat down to enchiladas, Spanish rice and a vegetable. Guess what? My kids liked it all.

From that point on, I made a decision to not cater to my kids tastes. I knew their tastes were undeveloped, and would take a special approach. But that didn’t mean they’d eat chicken nuggets and fries until they were grown.

I have met way too many parents who stop by McDonald's before they come to a dinner gathering. I’ve seen too many kids picking apart their food, and taking mushrooms off pizza.

Of course kids want to eat sweets. Of course they want to eat fries. Who doesn’t? I believe parents can help their children develop a more mature taste for food, increase their enjoyment of a variety of foods, and help desensitize kids to foods that bother them for one reason or another.

While my quiet-time tips last week were developed out of struggle, these tips were developed out of success in this area. I have five children, ages 18 to 12, and there is nothing they won’t eat, or at least try. This includes dealing with two little girls from Africa who didn’t like anything but chicken and rice when they arrived. We’ve been through a lot, and learned a lot.

I hope these tips help you with your picky eater.

1) As much as possible, eat dinner as a family, sitting down together at the same time. Children will learn to model what they see adults do.

2) Do not make separate meals. If you have a very picky eater, then modify your meals at the start of this program to appeal to that child. Keep foods very simple.

3) If you have a baby that isn’t eating yet, my pediatrician gave me the best advice when introducing new foods. Introduce vegetables before fruit. Once a child tastes sweets, there’s no going back.

4) Identify appropriate meal times and snack times. When our girls joined our family they wanted to eat all the time. A professional dietitian counseled me to teach them the idea of a schedule. So even though they couldn’t read, we posted times for meals and snacks. This actually helped them learn to sense hunger and fullness. Our daughters experienced devastating deprivation and can’t be compared to most American children. Their minds told them that to survive they had to eat all the time. But that wasn’t healthy. We still work on this issue.

5) Limit the amount of food you serve as a snack as your child gets older. This helps assure your child is hungry when it’s meal time. If your older child needs a snack, keep it very small and healthy, like grapes or some apple slices.

6) Start with the foods he likes and add one new food element. For example. If your child likes hamburgers, then make hamburgers with onions or eggs in the mix. It will introduce a new taste while staying familiar. Do the same thing with spices and seasonings. But just add one at a time. This can be applied to almost everything.

7) Roast veggies. Oh my goodness! This is huge. Chop them up, toss them lightly in olive oil and salt and roast in the oven at 400 degrees until done. The length of time will depend on what type of veggies you have. Roasting makes vegetables sweeter and kids love them.

8) Involve your child in the menu planning for the week. Look together at cook books and websites like Food Network for ideas. Then post the menu where your child can see it. She’ll feel more invested in the meals if she had a part in planning them.

9) Be adventurous. Try new recipes and restaurants. Pick menu items with a variety of colors and textures.

10) If your child doesn’t like something new, don’t force him to eat all of it. Ask that he try it with a good attitude, but that’s it. Do not replace it with something else at that meal – like a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy. Then, try that food another time.

These tips are really for kids who don’t have any special health or diet needs. So I share them knowing there will be exceptions. But I hope they encourage you to try and expand your child’s taste and enjoyment of food.

In His Love,

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