Direct from the Parent Coaching files, an issue that plagues many of us: The Preschooler Who Won't Eat Healthy Foods. Common variants of this plague include The Preschooler Who Only Eats White Foods, The Preschooler Who Only Eats Starches, The Preschooler Who Only Eats Chicken Nuggets, and my niece's current version: The Preschooler Who Only Eats Raisin Toast. (What can I say? Our family always has to be a little different.)
Seeing as though we can't force our children to Eat, Sleep, or Poop, we must BACK OFF. Yet, how to encourage healthy eating habits? And how to cope with the obvious complications of No Healthy Food -- constipation, and it's negative impact on potty training?
I wish it was as simple as many of our pediatricians say: "Encourage fruits, vegetables, and whole fibers. Have them drink a lot of water." OK -- but HOW?! Most preschoolers will turn up their cute little noses at a plate of healthy food -- or even something that looks just a little DIFFERENT than what they're used to eating.
My take on it: This is an opportunity to walk the precariously thin line between ENCOURAGEMENT and PRESSURE. Do we give up trying? No. Do we get frustrated and beg, plead, cajole, or bribe them? Nope. But we DO encourage -- with a parenting trick up our sleeves.
So, try this, a daily tactic in our house: It's the One Molecule Rule. We serve meals in courses: Healthy foods first. Each kid gets a serving of either a fruit or vegetable -- kid-friendly -- think carrot strips and ranch dressing, banana "coins", or apples with peanut butter. Each kid's serving must be finished before the rest of the meal becomes available to them. And by "serving size", we start with One Molecule of something different. The other day, we tried pomegranates. One kid LOVES them, but one kid freaked out when he saw them. For him, the rule was One Seed. He had to eat ONE pomegranate seed before "unlocking" his turkey sandwich. And next time, his serving might be TWO seeds. Whatever it is, be reasonably sure that it's a serving size he can handle -- and maybe even feel proud of finishing. SMALLER IS BETTER, until they graduate up to the next level. Praise and reinforce even the most incremental progress. And of course -- model the behavior you want them to emulate. OOH and AAH over your artichokes, brussels sprouts, and avocados. But let them go when they've had their molecule.
Because: Little kids are biologically programmed to avoid weird, unusual foods. It's a survival thing from back in the day when weird foods could (and often did) kill them. So don't blame your kids, work with them.
And the good news is this: With lots of encouragement over time, this too shall improve. To wit: My 9-year-old daughter, previously a card-carrying member of the "I Only Drink Juice And Eat Goldfish Crackers" club, asked for a CHICKEN CAESAR SALAD last night. And she LOVED it.
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert