How to Raise a Food-Confident Kid
School has only been back in session for a couple of weeks, but there’s a pretty good chance you’re already struggling with planning lunch for your little scholars. Turns out you’re not alone! Studies show about 25% of children are picky eaters. Thankfully you don’t have to tough it out much longer, because child nutrition expert Kristen Yarker has a new e-book providing four essential steps in solving the picky-eating problem. We had the chance to chat with Kristen about the new book, and ended up with heaps of helpful advice! Read on to find out how you can transform your child into a food-confident kid.
BT: You've recently written a book, Provide, Trust, Love (Then introduce new foods): A step-by-step solution to transform your child from picky eater to food-confident kid ~2-5 year old edition~. Can you tell us a bit about it and what motivated you personally to write this book?
KY: My friends started having their first children and were constantly asking me questions about how to feed their little ones. I’ve been working with individual families and leading workshops ever since. I work with parents who want their kids to have good nutrition. These amazing parents are bending over backwards trying to get their kids to eat well—making different meals for every member of their family every night, or sneaking vegetables into different dishes. And yet their kids are eating fewer and fewer foods. I captured what I’ve learned over that last 5 years and made it available in this book. I wanted to make this information as accessible as possible. So I chose to make this an e-book. But, you don’t need a tablet or e-reader to get it. As long as you have access to a computer that can read a PDF, you can get it.
BT: What are some specific strategies you suggest to parents trying to encourage their picky eaters to try new foods?
KY: Through the years I’ve seen so many parents frustrated that their kids won’t try new foods but they haven’t set the foundation to support their kids to be brave enough to try them. Some of the important foundational strategies include:
- Providing meals and snacks at about the same time each day. If kids are snacking all day long then they don’t have the opportunity to build an appetite. Feeling hungry helps a child be motivated to try something new to eat. Also, if a child knows that they can ask to eat a favourite food at any time of day, what’s their motivation to try this new food served to them at mealtime?
- Role model healthy eating. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Want your child to eat vegetables? Then make sure that you’re eating vegetables yourself. This becomes especially important for adults who are the same sex as your child. For example, little boys pick up the message very clearly that “boys don’t eat vegetables” if they see Mom eating veggies at dinner every day and Dad doesn’t.
- Make mealtimes pleasant. In every culture that I’ve ever seen, people gather together to eat. Kids really do eat better when a trusted adult joins them to eat together. And, that you take the time to stop other activities, sit down, and eat. Ask yourself, what is the atmosphere like at your table? Is the entire conversation about how many bites are being eaten? When you do stop pressuring your picky eater to eat and simply enjoy their company, they’ll eat better.
- And, it’s in the fourth step that you actually start to introduce new foods. By waiting until the fourth step to bring in new foods you’ll actually increase the likeliness that the foods you provide to your kids will get eaten—and with no negotiations, no sneakiness, and no deception.
I hear a lot from families who are so happy these steps are working for them. A lot of them were very stressed, anxious, and hurt by their children's picky eating. Once they stopped pressuring their children to eat and instead became meal planners, preparers, and providers, their families began to actually enjoy meal time and their children began to try new foods.
BT: What are your top 3 tips for packing a lunch for a picky eater?
- Get school-age kids involved in packing lunches. The more that you involve your kids in this chore, the more that they’ll take ownership in their lunches. Involve them in as many steps as possible. When you’re planning your grocery shopping, ask them what they want for lunch this week. Have they seen something in a friends’ lunch that they want to try? Make it their responsibility to help pack lunches, including activities such as washing fruit and veggies, preparing sandwiches, and placing items in lunchboxes/wrapping food.
- Many picky toddlers and preschoolers actually eat better at daycare than at home (the reason why is the topic for a whole other article). Take advantage of this by choosing packed lunches as an opportunity to provide a challenging food along with familiar foods. A challenging food is either something that they haven’t seen before or that you’ve served them previously but they haven’t eaten. For example, have you served broccoli a few times before at dinner and they haven’t eaten it? Include broccoli amongst the other raw veggies with dip.
- Offer packed lunch leftovers as afternoon snack. You did all the work of packing that lunch. Why not get as much out of it as you can? It’s a mystery as to why the very same foods that were rejected at lunchtime are accepted by many kids at afternoon snack time. But, I can’t tell you how many kids will happily tuck right into their lunch leftovers as their afternoon snack. When offering previously cooked foods, meats, dairy and other perishable items that need to be refrigerated, make sure they are food-safe and haven’t been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Thanks Kristen! Your advice is much appreciated.
Kristen is a big supporter of our Better Together movement, so she's offering our community members an exclusive discount for her e-book. Use coupon code "together" when you order your copy and get $10 off the regular price. Get your copy today because this discount is only available until midnight on Sunday, September 8th!