Three years ago, the gods smiled on me and a beautiful, bright, blond, blue-eyed angel came into my life. Her name Is Grace and I couldn't love her more if I gave birth to her myself! I am her 'Mimmie' and I have been taking care of Grace since her mommy had to return to work when Grace was 1 year old. She's a sharp, smart, funny, loving little gift of a child who for the most part, ate whatever I made for her and in fact, would frequently ask her mommy if she could have breakfast at Mimmie's house 'this day'. But lately, Grace has been invoking her right to independence, trying to take full control of what she eats and when. I truly admire her tenacity...it's something that will serve her well when she grows up. But it does present a challenge from time to time in the interim. Grace's favorite food? Chicken Nuggets and fries....she'd have them morning, noon and night, were she able.
Grace loves chicken nuggets and fries so much that she even uses the term as a quantative measure of how much she loves you....either as much as or more than, chicken nuggets and fries. Its been a bit of a challenge to interest her in eating much else, but she has opened her mind to pizza, made on whole wheat pita with tomato sauce containing pureed roasted red pepper and occasionally, sweet potato, spaghetti, but only if she's allowed to slurp up the long strands of pasta, and a 'dip in' egg, which is a fried egg, sunny side up, with toast to dip into the yolk. She'll graze eagerly on fresh veggies, fruit and yogurt, no problem...its just mealtime that's a bit challenging.
Grace is not the first finnicky eater I've had to deal with. In fact, I'm pretty sure, were you to ask my mother, I was a finnicky eater myself! Its pretty much a part of normal growth and development. Sometimes, being a picky eater starts to surface as soon as a child begins to feed themselves. For the first time in their darling little lives, they can now choose what and how much to eat - their first 'taste' of independence, pardon the pun.
Some days these rascally little curmudgeons will eat everything in sight! Other days, not much of anything at all. But if everyone knows their responsibilities, they'll grow healthy and strong, with good eating habits to take them into adulthood. The child's responsibility in this process is, quite simply to eat. It is the parents' responsibility to provide healthy choices.
Sometimes children are picky because they don't like the texture of a certain food. The little princess doesn't like 'mushy'? No problem, offer apple slices instead of apple sauce, or give her animal crackers to dip into the apple sauce. Or you could try a baked potato instead of mashed.
For other picky eaters, its simple a matter of temperment; their individual way of approaching the world, which I'm pretty sure is where my Gracie is coming from. I offer Grace options as to what snacks she can have, whether it's yogurt, crackers and cheese, carrot sticks and dipping sauce, sliced fruit,...the options are always healthy and we both end up being happy.
Children love to help with grown up things. It doesn't matter if its sweeping the floor, dusting the furniture, helping to put the groceries away, setting the table or handing you different ingredients for what you're cooking and I have yet to meet a child who wouldn't eat a minature homemade pizza that they spread the sauce and toppings on themselves.
If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's never to force your child to eat. Entering into a power struggle is an increasingly frustrating exercise in futility and it'll only get worse as the years go by. Don't offer rewards for eating either. Children learn VERY quickly how to use rewards to their advantage and you'll soon find yourself negotiating brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, and going to sleep on time. I would also suggest not negotiating dessert, using it as a reward itself for finishing their meal. Make desserts a healthy, all-inclusive part of the meal. Offer fresh fruit and berries with yogurt and let your little munchkins build their own, healthy dessert.
Some very basic things to remember here are:
a toddler's stomach is about the size of her tiny little clenched fist - keep your expectations on how much she eats reasonable
don't be afraid to say 'no' to snacks close to meal time - a hungry child is more apt to eat their meal
eat with your children, interact with them, hear what they have to say - keep it social
your might have to offer a food 10-15 times before they'll attempt to eat it, so don't be discouraged
feed your children the same foods as you're going to eat
children are smart - talk to them, don't preach, about the healthy benefits of food as fuel so they can run fast and for strong, healthy bodies, bones and teeth
don't show disgust or disinterest when trying new foods yourself - children learn what they live. Your child will imitate you just as sure as she mimics the way you talk on the phone or the way you wave goodbye to her each morning. (Have you ever considered why babies tend to wave 'backwards'? It's what they see when you wave to them!)
:Last;ly, children are people too and as such, there's just going to be some things they don't like. Take note, don't try to coerce them into eating it or try to sneak it in incognito...it's not worth sabotaging your child's trust.
For my little Chicken Nuggets and Fries fanatic, I make homemade chicken nuggets out of fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounding them in a plastic baggie until they're about an inch thick, cutting them into nugget size pieces, dusting with whole wheat flour, dipping in egg and then rolling in panko bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder and a little dried oregano. I pan fry them in coconut oil for an extra little health perk, but canola or olive oil works just fine. I make either sweet potato or regular potato fries in my T-Fal Actifry, and little Miss Grace, ALWAYS comes into the kitchen and asked, 'Mimmie, is my dinner going to be ready soon? It smells so good!'. (My recipe for Homemade Chicken Nuggets can be found in the poultry section of my recipes).
(Just a little footnote about the T-Fal Actifry....I am not affililated with T-Fal in any way. I believe it is an absolute godsend when it comes to making homefries healthier, requiring only 1-2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, depending on how many french fries I'm making. They always come out a beautiful golden brown, are crisp and delicious. My promise in writing this blog is that I will only tout the virtues of a product if I myself have given it the thumbs up!)