Healthy Kids : Have Patience with Picky Eaters

If the airplane has stopped landing and your picky eater no longer lets the choo-choo in the tunnel when it's carrying green things, there might be an easier way to get kids to eat their vegetables.

Just hide them.

In the last few years, the Internet has exploded with recipes to sneak nutrition into childrens' (and sometimes picky spouses') diets. The trend has launched cookbooks and anchored parenting and food-themed magazines. While there's been some backlash -- critics say hiding vegetables doesn't promote healthy eating habits for toddlers and children -- local dietitians say recipes that hide produce in tasty dishes are good supplements to teaching proper diets.

Nicole Alston, a registered dietitian at the Alamance County Health Department, said parents have to pick their battles.

"I say use whatever works for you," Alston said. "Sometimes, children can develop a taste for food (if they're exposed to it). And tastes change as you grow up, so when they're adults they might like broccoli. But right now, they need it."

Pam Ingram, a registered dietitian with Alamance Regional Medical Center, regularly counsels parents of children referred to her by pediatricians. Stealthy nutrition is one of many tactics parents can use to nourish picky eaters, she said.

"It can be a good way to increase the nutrition a child might be taking in if they don't like or eat vegetables, but it's not a way to get them to like vegetables," Ingram added. "I think it can be a good strategy for parents to use but they still need to work on getting children to eat vegetables on their own."

Adding pureed vegetables, like broccoli, carrots and even pumpkin, to pasta sauces bumps up nutrition without taking away from the flavors and textures kids like, they said. Adding finely chopped vegetables to casseroles also works. Soups and stews offer nearly limitless options for sneaking in vegetables kids might normally turn their noses up at.

Tossing vegetables into scrambled eggs and adding cheese is a good way to pack breakfast full of vitamins. Spinach, diced tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers -- and even asparagus -- taste great and make a colorful, enticing plate when sautéed briefly and added to eggs.

But above all, be patient with young eaters.

Setting rules about cleaning plates and force-feeding vegetables can backfire. Negative reinforcement makes vegetables a punishment, meaning that kids are less likely to try or enjoy them.

Ingram said children sometimes need more than a dozen exposures to a new food before they will voluntarily eat them. Seeing you eat and enjoy them is the best way to pique a child's interest in a food.

Parents can model good eating habits for their children
    --Be a good role model. Children are more likely to eat vegetables if they see you doing it.
    --Be patient. Force-feeding makes for a fight and can backfire with a stubborn child.
    --Decorate children's plates with vegetable pieces in a wide range of colors.
    --Experiment with different ways of preparing vegetables: in salads, raw, steamed, roasted, sautéed or grilled.
    --Children like food on sticks. If the child is old enough, skewer raw vegetables like zucchini, cucumber, sweet peppers and cherry tomatoes as an alternative to salad.
    --Serve small portions -- just a couple bites -- and let them request more. Don't intimidate them with large portions.
    --Serve cut vegetables with low-fat dips or dressings for meals or snacks.
    --Let children pick vegetables to try while grocery shopping. Develop their curiosity for different shapes and colors of produce and let them touch them.
    --Let kids help decide which vegetables are on the menu at mealtimes.

©2014 Times-News (Burlington, N.C.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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