Most picky eaters are made, not born, says Theresa Albert, a consulting nutritionist, author of Ace Your Health: 52 Ways to Stack Your Deck (McClelland & Stewart) and host of Food Network Canada’s Just One Bite. So if your family is in need of a simple reset, follow Albert’s one-month plan to get you back on the right track.
week 1: Engage Wisely
Most picky eating is essentially a struggle for control. Around age two, taste buds develop along with the new knowledge that something (anything!) is within a tot’s control. Do not engage. This week you want to back off. If they balk at their food options, you counter with: “Sorry you feel that way, but that’s what’s for dinner/snack/lunch.” I know what you’re thinking and, yes, it will be hard and they might be hungry, but they won’t starve. Be consistent.
week 2: Entertain
Continue to change the theme before attempting to change the food. Pick a day of the week that works for you and announce it as a new routine. Fireside Supper, Porch Picnic, Under the Table Tent Tuesday—the idea here is to lighten up once in a while and make meals a pleasure again. It doesn’t mean that every meal needs to be over the top, but it’s a good way to let kids be kids. You’ll be surprised at what kids are willing to dip, dish and delight in when they try it in a new context. Adding a new item every week will go a long way toward expanding their palates.
week 3: Explore
Now that you have unlocked horns, it’s time to start dishing out new foods and flavours. Add canned pumpkin to tomato sauce (it doubles the fibre and nutrients and halves the sodium), bake sweet potato or zucchini muffins, and add a can of refried beans to meatloaf. Give them what they want plus a tiny portion of something new that you have created.
Recipe to try: Ricotta-and-Pumpkin Filled Shells with Pumpkin Tomato Sauce
week 4: Expose
As often as you can, serve food “family style,” on platters, where everyone serves themselves. It’s the reason why taco night is so fun! Parents decide what goes on the table, kids decide what and how much goes in their bodies. Go to Chinese or Indian restaurants where this style is part of the culture. Allow kids to absorb and observe how it is done in other places by other kids. It is a delicious way to break the cycle.