I Can Eat A Rainbow – Can You?

Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with information about healthy eating. Some of it good, others not so much. Some sources say cut this or that, some say low fat,  low cal, but all the processed junk food is okay because it meets the basic requirements of being low fat and low cal.

When we’re bombarded with all of this information, it can make it really difficult to know just which information to pass onto our children. as parents, we can become stressed that our child isn’t eating, or is eating too much, or the wrong food. We often loose sight of the most important point – a balanced diet. A balanced lifestyle.

For those who know the Canadian food guide or food pyramid, you know there are a certain number of foods a person should eat every day – even children. I don’t want to go against the established authority here, but I don’t agree with those guides. At least not completely. The guides say children ages 1-5 should be eating basically the same, and that doesn’t cut it for me. Just as adults need to adjust their intake for their body needs, so to should children.

An active slim five year old does not need to eat the same as a plump, not quite walking one year old. Therefore I’m telling you to throw out the guide, and trust. Trust your child to eat what his or her body needs. But, and this is very important, it’s up to you, the parent, to provide a healthy varied diet. It is not up to you to force your child to eat something. In fact if you do, you’re more likely to cause a more long lasting aversion, whether to that particular food or to certain textured foods, or just new foods in general.

For younger children, just starting to eat solids, allow them to pick at the food, play with it, taste it, spit it out. Assume more will end up on the floor, them, the table, the floor, the dog, than in their stomach.

After they master the pincher grasp, as they toddle around the house, periodically stop them and offer, where they stand, a healthy food. Also have available for them to graze a healthy variety of finger foods. Fruits, vegetables, crackers, cheese etc.

As they get bigger and have clear preferences, allow them to choose what they want to eat, allow them to help with the shopping, make the list, find the items, allow them to cook. Even a two year old can help in the kitchen, even if it’s just washing the lettuce, or stirring the batter.

The older they get, the more freedom you provide. Give your child the information they need to learn to make healthy choices. When you’re shopping and they ask for the cookies and you say ‘no’, tell them why. Is it because of the budget, or for health reasons. For us we often say ‘no’ to store bought, but will offer to make something similar, but healthier at home. We also tell the girls why an item isn’t healthy, we show them the label. As people with celiac’s disease we read a lot of labels, and that’s good for our children in a number of ways.Most importantly it gets them looking. One day they’ll decide for themselves what to eat, it’s our job to give them the information they need to make balanced choices.

When our children ask us for a certain food we talk about why it’s a fun food or a healthy food. Sometimes we’ll talk about other foods they’ve chosen to eat that day, and give them information about balancing their diet with healthy and fun foods. If they choose to eat marshmallows for breakfast,t hen they probably won’t feel very good, they could have upset stomachs, they might not have the energy they need to play. If they choose to eat a tomato, mushroom, and cheese omelet, they’re more likely to feel good, and have energy to play.

If you have a picky eater and you’re worried about the over all health of your child? First, don’t panic. Second, it’s mostly harmless.

One way to encourage healthy eating in children is to give them power. The more power they have over the experience the more likely they’ll eat. Let them shop, let them make the food, let them choose when and how to eat. It’s easy to say we eat when we wake up, then again at noon, and again at six, with a snack in between, but children don’t work that way. Many children need more food earlier, and less food later, but when we pressure them to eat out of synch with their body, they eat less than they would if they followed their body.

Making Sushi Rolls

Make the food fun. I invited a friend over and she said she’d bring fresh fruit. I expected a store bought platter, or a dish with cut up fruit. Nope. She brought a party. A long wooden skewer through the center of the regular old fruit made it so much more fun, and when they were done eating they had swords! Okay not all children turn everything into swords, they could’ve been magic wands.

Cut the cheese, bread, anything into fun shapes. Have healthy food available at all times of the day, pre-prepared and ready to snack. Have your children help prepare the food. And whatever you do, don’t stop your child from eating because ‘it’s almost time for dinner.’ If you’re having trouble getting your child to eat, then don’t stop them from eating, ever. Let them figure it out. Sure you may not have the family meal, but there are other ways to make up family time. Play a game at the table instead.

You can encourage your child to figure out what they don’t like about certain foods. We always tell the girls, you don’t have to eat it, but I want you to taste it. We don’t force, and they can spit it right back out. The point is to try new foods, not worry about manners. We’ve discovered Ella loves octopus, sushi, and countless other foods. There are several she won’t touch, but as she explores she’s willing to try new foods, and old ones she didn’t like before become better. Not always edible, but better.

We also don’t lie about foods. We won’t tell the girls, just taste it, then insist they taste a certain amount. Licking it is good enough. If we wanted a certain amount eaten, we’d say that from the beginning. We also don’t hide foods from them. If we offer them a piece of chicken covered in cheese, we don’t hide a vegetable in order to get them to eat it (though grating cheese over vegetables is something my girls love). If they don’t like it, that’s okay. They can pick apart their meals and eat what they choose. There have been times when Ella’s had eggs, peanut butter sandwiches, or some other  quick, low flavour food for supper every night for a week. Everyone else has dinner and she makes her meal, or waits until someone else is ready to make it for her.

Children rely on us to get them food and drink, they’re not able to choose to eat watermelon or pizza on a whim. Someone needs to get it for them. As adults we’re able to run to the store and buy something we suddenly want. Remembering that allows me more patience with my children, when they don’t want what I’ve made. And that is the final point to remember, patience. Realize this too shall pass, and one day you’ll look back and laugh about how your child only ate, or never ate such and such. We can lead a horse to water, but not make him drink. The same is true with children. Let your children know why their bodies need a mixture of foods, why a certain food is a healthy choice, give them the information, and allow them to decide what to do with it. You are, after all the one doing the shopping and can veto some choices if you feel the need.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “I Can Eat A Rainbow – Can You?

  1. Thanks Sarah!! I needed this, just a reminder I’m doing the right thing. My parents and inlaws can be quite harsh about this and make me feel like a terrible mother, that I’m not doing enough and should force Kestyn to eat, should hide stuff in his food…then I get frustrated because I refuse to do those things and then everybody’s mad, but most importantly Kestyn is upset and hurt..They took him for a weekend once and tried to force him to eat things, punishing him when he didn’t, and he came home miserable, starving (he has stubborness and willpower you won’t believe! So he didn’t eat anything!) he was so sick and then didn’t want to see them again for a while. Since that episode they have come around a little bit to understanding where we come from, all about letting them do things when they need to and Kestyn is too stubborn to be forced, and when he visits them they make sure he has plenty of the things he likes around for him, but you can still see the roll of the eyes when we all sit down to dinner and Kestyn has a peanut butter sandwich. I personally don’t care anymore, but it bothers Kestyn when the entire dinner is spent with everyone at the table trying to encourage him to try things…he likes to do it in private, before everyone sits to dinner, comes to the kitchen with me and has a lick (well, a touch of his tongue) to the different things, nope I don’t like them I want peanut butter. The thing about that that really frustrates me is that he doesn’t even actually try it and everything is always don’t like it. Fine then, but why? Too salty? Too soft? He will not answer me, just don’t like it. We’ve asked everyone to leave it alone, but there’s only so much parents won’t do and they feel their grandson is suffering, they don’t understand he suffers more when they bug him about it. At least he’s eating SOMETHING. And then he’s pressured at school…Our school provides a hot breakfast and hot lunch for the kids, all really good healthy things…I have to send his with him since he refuses to eat…but his school is pressuring him, the other kids are pressuring him, talked to his teachers about it, his preschool teacher was incredibly understanding and helped out a ton, thankfully she was there in Kindergarden a couple days a week to help, but it became such an issue with the other teacher that the principal got involved and it became an issue of it’s not fair to the other kids that Kestyn doesn’t have to eat what’s provided and gets a fun lunch instead. So now not sure what to do there…I just wish I knew what to do to help him…meat really freaks him out, they learned about vegetarians and he doesn’t want to eat animals so hey, that’s fine. He gets protiens other ways so he doesn’t have to. Although mcdonald’s chicken nuggets aren’t real chicken apparently, lol, I’ve told him the truth but he insists it has to be pretend chicken (I don’t think he wants to give them up so he made this up to feel better about it) BUT, he doesn’t eat ANY vegetables, or fruits, only sometimes an apple, but he has to be in the right mood…so he drinks alot of fruit juices or fruitfusions with veggies in it too…but that is a huge sugar intake, but it’s the only sourceof fruits and veggies…sigh…i’ve even tried making my own juices, no way, won;t even try it. Ashamed to say the one time I was dishonest with him, I made juice in secret and put it in an empty container of the juice he likes, just to see…nope, he knew first sip. “Mom, there’s something wrong with it, i don’t like it.” I just don’t know what to do anymore, and the worst thing is that I’m scared this will pass along to his sisters…it’s already started with Kadryn…she’s beginning to notice he doesn’t have to eat the supper we do. And she LOVES foods, all different kinds, haven’t run into anything she doesn’t like except plain things…has to have frank’s hot sauce on tacos, soya sauce on her sushi, HP sauce on her brekky sausage, cheese and sour cream on potatoes, bbq sauce etc…but now she wants what Kestyn’s having…and is starting to cut out eating all the things she loves, I mean to a kid a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is wayyyyy more appealing, right?…I’m getting worried. What do I do?

    • The less attention you draw to it at home, the more relaxed he’ll be. When you question ‘why?’ he doesn’t like something it can make it seem as though there isn’t a reason for him not to like it. Strange as it sounds, then to top it off, he may not have the words to describe the offending sensation or flavour. The entire experience becomes stressful and the introduction of a new food becomes a negative experience.

      When Ella went through a phase of not liking anything with flavour we took a few weeks where we didn’t mention it at all, everything I cooked was something she’d enjoy. I might add something else for others, but the majority of the meal was Ella approved. Then after a few weeks we started adding something new in, once a week. We told her she didn’t have to eat it, she could have what she wanted, but she needed to taste the new item to see if she liked it. If she didn’t like it that was okay. Often she’d just dip her finger into something on our plate and decide she didn’t like it. That was okay. So once a week she tried one food that was not a prefered food. We’d re-do the same new foods each month, but keep several weeks in between.

      Now it’s pretty much automatic, she dips her finger, says yay or nay, then moves on. We don’t argue about it, she doesn’t fight it – and some nights she even decides she does like it.

      The other thing I did is I told her about when I was young and my parents made food I didn’t like. I told her what I did, what they did, and how I felt. I told her I want her willing to try new foods, even if hse doesn’t like them and decides not to eat them. I told her food can be fun, but only if we let it. I asked for suggestions on how to make food fun for her and ways she might be willing to try something new.

      As for family, I’d suggest trying to get a new routine going where Kestyn feels safe with food before eating with extended family. Ask him for suggestions for school. If he’s okay with it, then don’t worry. If the princcipal is really concerned about fairness, then I’d ask how it’s fair for the other children to be able to feel happy and safe eating the food, when your son is expected to go hungry, or will the school cater to his needs every meal?

      At home, if you relax about the food, don’t mention him needing to try new foods, don’t bring it up at all and his sisters won’t pick up on it. They noticce the attention and copy big brother. If you don’t mention it, Kadryn will move back to her old patterns. We saw the exact same thing with Ella and Agatha. The more relaxed we are, the more relaxed our children can be. And relaxed children feel safe and are more willing to try new things.

      As for the specific diet, in the long run it could ad dup to being a problem, however, most children outgrow their ‘picky’ eating habits – especially when the parents are no longer there stressing them out about food.

      Smile, breath and know your boy needs the support to be himself – despite what Grandma says. He’ll still continue to grow into a wonderful young man even if he drinks his vegetables.

  2. Thanks Sarah! I will be trying your suggestions and hopefully someday down the road see some results. He’s a really happy, healthy, good natured kid…I don’t want this to continue to be a sore spot with him. I know he’ll be ok. It’s just nice to have it reaffirmed!

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