I often hear parents complain that their child won’t eat “real” chicken, or will only eat the Mac n Cheese in the blue box, or will only eat a certain kind of sugar cereal. Parents become incredibly frustrated and do not know how to break their child’s bad habit.
Our food supply is now “upside down,” where home-cooked meals from scratch are the exception, and convenience foods are the norm. Author Michael Pollan explains that corporations are now cooking for us. I don’t have problems with convenience, but I do have problems with certain highly processed foods. Here’s why you should, too.
Think of Fruit by the Foot or a breaded fast-food chicken tender. These foods are HYPER tasty, HYPER colored, HYPER textured. And that’s how the kids think food should be—HYPER. Food made at home is BORING in comparison. It’s not as sweet, it’s not as fatty or salty, it doesn’t have that magic crunch that they expect. Their food expectations are “upside down” and unrealistic. If your child’s benchmark for chicken is a fast-food deep fried chicken tender, they’re disappointed when they eat “real” chicken. Compare a plain raisin to a brightly colored sugary treat like Barbie Fruit Gummies. The box is boring, the raisin is boring.
If it was just an occasional treat it wouldn’t be enough to affect your child. But the problem is these hyperpalatable (fancy word for extra tasty) invented foods have invaded all categories of kid food—waffles with syrup built in, dinosaur oatmeal, cookie yogurt, brightly colored sugar cereal, flaming hot chips, fruit gummies, and so on.
Kids are very brand loyal, so they latch onto a certain taste/texture/look/feel and are often unwilling to veer away from their favorite. Yet, if you read the ingredients list of the “favorite,” it contains words you cannot pronounce or identify—things that don’t sound like real food. Here are some suggestions if you would like to break the habit of certain “kid” foods.
9 Steps to Right-Side-Up Eating
- Follow my shopping rules for the ingredients list on foods: FIVE OR LESS IS BEST….MORE THAN 10, THINK AGAIN.
- Second shopping rule: No fake colors. (Yellow Lake, Blue, Red Lake etc.) . Alternatives to popular categories include:
– Yogurt tubes—try Chobani Champions Horizon, Stonyfield or Simple GoGurt instead of regular GoGurt
– Fruit gummies—try fruit leather, natural applesauce, raisins, or gummies with no fake colors, instead of Fruit by the Foot, etc.
– Trix or cookie yogurt—definitely switch to a yogurt without fake colors!
– Popsicles—switch to those with natural coloring, or 100% fruit bars, frozen yogurt tubes, or make your own popsicles
- Don’t worry so much about the food at birthday parties/sports events/school celebrations. At first, just focus on improving the quality of what you buy at the store and make at home.
- For the kid who won’t eat any “real” chicken, ONLY the pre-breaded fast-food or frozen kind: Start making your own chicken tenders at home (recipe on my website www.nutritionskitchen.com or any recipe you like). When you make these, offer no alternative to your child. You do not need to force them to eat it, just keep on making it! (Some parents like to offer “kid’s choice” dinner once a week where they get to have whatever they want) It may take six months or even more to convert your child, but be persistent. The parents are the ones who have to commit here, and yes it is a bit more work, but so worth it. Don’t give up!
- Eat and offer more 1-ingredient foods on their plates, including:
- Cook more. More might mean once a week for you. Anything is fine, just start from where you are. I highly recommend The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman.
- Challenge yourself to make a meal with 1-ingredient items. You can start slowly by switching from pancake mix to making your own. Follow any recipe (I like the Mom 100 Cookbook, Cook’s Illustrated, Epicurious). Make a smoothie, or a soup.
- Get your kids involved in counting ingredients. Give them a magnifying glass and let them play Food Detective, identifying fake colors in food.
- For kids, start slowly and have compassion. They’re used to a certain way of eating and are extremely brand loyal. See more on my Picky Eating section on www.nutritionskitchen.com.