3 in 5 families are short-order cooks for picky kids. Here’s what to do instead


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Each of Tara Marklin’s three sons have very different approaches to eating: the eldest eats the widest variety, the middle likes vegetables but takes firm stances on other foods, and her 3-year-old wants to live oxygen and mac and cheese. she says.

With the added complications of extracurricular activities and work schedules, it’s a serious effort to ensure his family can gather around the table and share a nutritious meal they will all enjoy, said Marklin, who lives in Chamblee, Georgia.

She makes a meal for everyone, but many people handle dinner stress in a different way, a new survey finds.

If their children don’t like what everyone else is eating, 3 in 5 parents will prepare something else for them, according to data from the University of Michigan Health CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health .

“This is concerning because, typically, alternative options are not as healthy as what is offered as a family meal,” said Dr. Susan Woolford, co-director of Mott Poll.

The survey included more than 1,000 parents of children ages 3 to 10, important steps in establishing healthy eating habits, said Woolford, who is also a pediatrician at Mott and an associate professor specializing in prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.

A replacement meal of chicken nuggets or pizza may be tempting to keep your kids from going hungry, but there are better ways to feed kids while giving them more nutrients, she said.

It’s natural for young children to be resistant to new and unfamiliar foods, but that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel, Woolford said.

“Just because the child… doesn’t seem to like a lot of vegetables doesn’t mean vegetables shouldn’t be incorporated into the meal,” she added. “It usually gets better with time. This is a phase that will eventually change.

Experts estimate it will take about 20 exposures before a child no longer cares about a new food, Woolford added. This familiarization process means you need to continue to encourage them to try different foods – and not get discouraged when they grimace.

Introduce your children to new foods by appealing to their senses, said Natalie Mokari, a registered dietitian in Charlotte, North Carolina. What does it smell like? What does it do ? What color is this?

Then you can talk about the vitamins and minerals in foods and all the good things they can do for their bodies, she added.

While you may not want to make a completely different meal, Mokari recommends having healthy backup options that you know they love after your kids try something new.

You can also make the more nutritious options more appealing by giving kids some control, Woolford said.

“There is a philosophy that parents should provide and then the child decides,” she said.

Maybe your kids tried Brussels sprouts and weren’t a fan, but they love the salad — so they might choose to have that instead, Woolford suggested.

It can also be helpful to involve your children in choosing vegetables at the grocery store and helping them prepare the meal, she said. This way they can get excited about the food.

If as a child you had to sit at dinner time and stare at cold vegetables that you refused to eat and couldn’t leave the table until you did, you know that doesn’t make them any more appealing to eat.

While it’s important for your kids to try new foods, it’s also crucial not to force them to eat a lot of what they don’t like, Woolford said. This approach can really backfire.

Pushing food too hard can create a relationship with food in which vegetables are punishments and the most taboo foods become even more precious, Mokari said.

And demanding an empty plate can teach children to overstep and start ignoring their hunger and fullness cues, Woolford said.

“One of the important things about nutrition is that we learn to listen to the signals that our body is sending us and know when we need to eat and when it’s time to stop,” she said. .

Just like vegetables shouldn’t be a punishment, dessert shouldn’t be a reward — that kind of motivation often backfires, Woolford said.

“We’re setting up a kind of negative cycle where the child will prefer desert foods and be less likely to like broccoli or vegetables that are supposed to be eaten for a reward,” she added.

And if kids know that dessert always follows dinner, they might learn to take the few bites they need to fill up on treats, Mokari said.

She recommends not having dessert every night or tying it to a behavior, but as an occasional offering. And instead of always eating a sugary treat after dinner, you could treat your kids to a random dessert, like ice cream in the middle of the day, she added.

There are many strategies around diet, but with so much to stress about when it comes to raising three boys, Marklin said she’s learned to be less obsessed and do her part. better so that her children are happy, nourished and nourished.

“For me, it’s about trying to teach them to listen to their body and make sure we’re giving them things that are going to provide their body with good energy,” she said. “They’re growing and they’re growing. I’m happy and I think they’re healthy. Their pediatrician thinks they’re healthy. I try to pick my battles.

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