Getting Your Finicky Eater To Do More Than Pick At Food

kids eating habits

If your child is a picky eater, you know what a battleground the dinner table can be. You try coaxing, cajoling, and maybe even threatening to get your child to eat, but nothing works. Frustrated, you end up tossing the contents of the plate into the trash. You know this can’t go on, but what do you do?

Dealing with a picky eater requires a two-phased strategy: 1) understanding what prompts a child to become a picky eater, and 2) learning how to get them to eat without the warfare. Interviews with two child behavior specialists provide the “whys”.

Isa Marrs MA CCC-SLP, President of Isa Marrs Speech Language Pathology, had this to say:

“Almost all toddlers go through a stage of picky eating. This stage is called neophobia (fear of food). The thinking behind this stage is that it is a survival strategy. Now that toddlers are up and moving they have access to more and more dangerous things. A toddler who is not neophobic would more likely eat everything he comes in contact with, putting him at risk for poisoning and death.

“In some children this picky eating stage is short and mild. In other children this stage is more severe and could last several years. Children with developmental delays or medical issues may develop a more severe food aversion that is known as problem eating. In these cases a parent should seek medical guidance by a specialist who deals with feeding issues in children.”

Bridget Swinney MA, RD (Registered Dietician), author of the book Baby Bites (Meadowbrook, 2007), offered this advice:

“Occasional picky eating habits and food jags (consuming a single food or only a few foods over an extended period), are a normal part of growing up and are usually not associated with major changes in nutrient intake or growth. Picky eating habits usually show up around the time when toddlers are transitioning from baby and toddler foods to adult foods. This is also the time when growth slows down and they are exerting their independence. Another possible cause, and this usually begins from the start of introducing solid foods, is the genetic influence on taste buds. Some kids are “super tasters” and thus shy away from the more bitter vegetables. [It] doesn’t mean they can’t ever learn to like them.

“There can be other causes, however. One possible problem is that some children do have sensory integration issues — they  have problems with the texture of foods and other issues too; this can be helped with occupational therapy. Another potential, but more rare cause is food sensitivities or reflux, which causes the act of eating to be uncomfortable. Also, to a small extent, food is one thing that an independent toddler does have control over and it can be used as an attention getting mechanism.”

Both of these experts agree that if handled incorrectly, picky eating can develop into far more significant food issues later on. The question then becomes, “What do you do?”

Robin Miller, host of Food Network’s “Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller”, nutritionist, and mother of two boys, has been working on ways to help parents cope with picky eaters. She has teamed up with Tyson Foods to develop workable menus that will entice these kids to eat. Robin and Tyson have graciously allowed TH readers to get a sneak preview of some of the dishes Robin’s been cooking up:

Chicken Nuggets with Root Beer Barbecue Sauce

Recipe serves 4

1 package of Chicken Nuggets
1  cup root beer (bottled or canned)
6 ounce can of tomato paste
2  tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2  tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2  teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2  teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Preparation Instructions:
1. Cook chicken nuggets according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk together the root beer, tomato paste, cider vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, cumin and Dijon mustard.
3. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.
4. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce reduces to about 1 cup, stirring occasionally.
5. Serve the nuggets with the root beer barbecue sauce on the side for dunking.

Chicken Nugget and Black Bean Wraps

Recipe serves 4

1 package of Chicken Nuggets
1/4  cup light sour cream
1/4  cup prepared salsa
4 whole wheat flour tortillas (taco size)
1  cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1  cup shredded cheddar cheese
4  teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Preparation Instructions:
1. Cook chicken nuggets according to package directions.
2. Remove chicken nuggets from the oven and cut into small (about ½-inch) pieces.  Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and salsa.  Mix well to combine.
4. Arrange tortillas on a flat surface.  Spread sour cream mixture all over tortillas, to within ½-inch of the edges.  Top with black beans, cooked chicken nugget pieces, cheddar cheese, and cilantro (if using).  Roll up and serve.

Chicken Nuggets with Honey-Peach Sauce

Recipe serves 4

1 package of Chicken Nuggets
14 ½ ounce can no-sugar-added peaches in water, drained
1 tablespoon honey
1  teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Preparation Instructions:
1. Cook chicken nuggets according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, in blender or food processor, combine the peaches, honey and balsamic vinegar.  Purée until smooth.  Pour sauce into serving bowl.
3. Serve the nuggets with the honey-peach sauce on the side for dunking.

Note:  The sauce can be served at room temperature or heated by pouring into a small saucepan over medium-low heat for a few minutes (or in the microwave, covered, for 1 minute on HIGH).

Chicken Pizzettes with “Choose ‘Em” Vegetables

Recipe serves 4

1 package of Chicken Nuggets
4  whole wheat flour tortillas (taco size)
¾  cup prepared pizza sauce or pasta sauce (regular or reduced-sodium)
1  cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2  cups mixed, chopped vegetables such as broccoli florets, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, zucchini, pitted black olives, and baby spinach leaves
4  teaspoons grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano, optional

Preparation Instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400º.  Arrange chicken nuggets on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.
2. Remove chicken nuggets from the oven and cut into ½-inch pieces.  Set aside.
3. Arrange tortillas on a flat surface.  Top each tortilla with 3 tablespoons of the pizza sauce.
4. Top the sauce with mozzarella cheese (¼ cup per tortilla).  Top the cheese with the chicken nugget pieces and any combination of vegetables.
5. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and oregano (if using) over top.
6. Transfer pizzettes to baking sheets and bake 5 to 7 minutes, until cheese melts and tortilla is golden brown.

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