For some parents, mealtime equals battle time. Kids can have eating preferences that make breakfast, lunch, and dinner time a daily drag. From only eating particular foods to refusing to try new things, how can you help get your kids past the picky stage and on to becoming healthy eaters? We spoke with Chef Gigi Gaggero, author of the new book Food Fight: For Parents of Picky Eaters to find out more. Read on to discover tips for turning your choosy child into a true foodie (or at least into a kid who eats more than just french fries and other beige foods!).
Grok Nation: In your book, you go through some common strategies many parents may try in order to get their kids to eat, and discuss why they’re not ideal. How can parents find what works best for them?
Chef Gigi: You can please both your child’s palate and your sense of parental responsibility by using positive parenting campaigns. One that worked for my family over and over was offering a closed-ended choice. Picky eating is about power and control, so give them the power to choose.
Present your child with a healthy choice: “You can choose an apricot or an orange for today’s mid-morning snack.”
Then wait. Ask again, but with different content: “And did you want it peeled or cut into sections?”
This technique of closed-ended choices can be very empowering. When my children were little, I had difficulties with bathing time. Offering a bath with or without bubbles solved our power struggles, and fast. You can use this tactic with food and gain the same success—it just takes some practice. When using close-ended choices, offer a choice between two items only. Lose the bribing, and the threats. Create a positive relationship between your child, yourself and food.
How do you handle eating with friends and family when it comes to picky eaters?
I call these scenarios, “Food Traps.” Food traps are situations that make it difficult for us to eat healthy or feed our families healthy. Especially picky eaters. Some examples of food traps are road trips, holidays, playgroup meetups, family vacations, and difficulty with time management. Make sure to educate and not send a feeling of negativity about eating a celebratory cookie or portion of cake, and then ensure your child eats a balanced meal. Soda during upcoming celebrations? Make sure you portion control. Everything in moderation, right?
Don’t make it a big deal. Sometimes during playtime, kids are so wound up they won’t eat—that’s okay too. This just primes their evening appetite. Could be a win-win for us. Hungry children eat.
Keep in mind that some picky eaters are naturally picky because they are having a physical negative reaction that you may be unaware of. There are all sorts of reasons your child is a picky eater.
Chef Gigi’s Top 3 Rules for Parents
- Create the Family Meal. Make an effort to eat together for at least one meal a day. Toddlers and preschoolers learn by imitating. If you are eating oodles of vegetables and healthy foods at meal time, this will seem normal and familiar to your child, and he is more likely to eat them also. Toddlers and young children are copycats! This can also be a wonderful time to be together as a family and give your child the attention she craves. If you have successfully eliminated the pressure and nagging with regard to food, eating together can actually be a wonderful experience. Meal times are also a great time to share. It really is amazing what you may learn about your child at the dinner table.
- Just Chill! Foods that are colder temperatures won’t have as much of an impact on tiny tongues. Some kids’ taste receptors can be 10 times more intense than those of adults. To counteract this, serve foods a bit colder than usual. This is how I introduced green peas to my children. They snacked on frozen peas because it was a novelty— and the cold food was a subtle introduction to the flavor. As my children became accustomed to eating peas, I started to thaw them slightly. At that point, I suggested how fun it was to hear the peas pop in our mouths when we chewed them.
- Train Your Tastebuds. We all have the four primary tastes: sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. There is also a fifth taste—not on our tongues but within certain foods. It’s referred to as umami. There are plenty of foods in which umami occur naturally, including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy. I love to introduce umami to picky eaters’ parents because it creates a pleasant savory taste and blends well with other flavors. Umami expands and rounds out flavors.
Chef Gigi’s Recipe for Unicorn Muffins
I made this at home for my family and everyone loved them. The coconut oil gives them a subtle extra flavor, plus keeps the muffins moist, while the blueberries two ways adds something special! Makes 12 muffins.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup organic cane or coconut sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted
1 cup milk or nut milk
1 ½ cups fresh blueberries, ½ cup smashed
Edible food-safe gold dust or gold leaf for decorating the tops
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake papers or prepare muffin tin with your favorite organic non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
2. In an additional bowl, combine the oil, eggs, and milk. Whisk to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine. Fold in the ½ cup of smashed blueberries. Mix to color the batter purple without overbeating.
3. Gently fold in remaining berries. Fill muffin cups and bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clear.