SuperKids Nutrition caught up with Linda Piette, MS RD to learn if parents should be hiding veggies in sauce, worrying if their child is a picky eater, or bribing their kids to eat. She shared with us a taste of what’s in her book JUST TWO MORE BITES: Helping Picky Eaters Say Yes to Food, a book packed with stories about children and parents struggling over food and how to overcome day-to-day meal time issues.
Unpredictable and limited food preferences are common among toddlers. What advice can you offer parents who wish to help their toddler eat a variety of foods?
Toddlers often want to do their own thing, which may or may not include food. My advice is to be patient. Toddlers are not known for being open to new foods, so gradual changes in flavor or texture with familiar foods work best. Think about small changes rather than big leaps in trying new foods.
Most mealtime showdowns with toddlers are not about food, so look beyond it: presentation and attitude make a difference. Support your child’s growing need for independence by encouraging self-feeding and whenever possible, give your child food choices.
After the first birthday, growth slows down and appetites drop, so keep small portions. Be friendly and eat with your toddler. This makes it easier to not to hover over your child’s every bite, which also helps.
What suggestions do you have for parents of children who refuse vegetables?
Don’t make a big deal out of it. At the same time, don’t give up. Keep offering vegetables and, when you can, look for ways to make them fun. Opening pea pods, dipping veggie sticks into a sauce, talking about the shape, growing your own… there are lots of ways that can make a difference. But if a child keeps refusing, and especially for a child who eats plenty of fruit, I would not worry or force it. Give your child a multivitamin, eat your own veggies with gusto, and one day, your child may change.
Out of all the books written on childhood eating what makes Just Two More Bites! unique?
Just Two More Bites digs deep into one of the biggest frustrations parents face-kids refusing food. It’s a perennial problem, typically dismissed as a passing phase that parents should ignore. And yet, early food experiences are important in shaping life-long food habits.
Based on research findings and years of practical experience with over a thousand picky eaters, Just Two More Bites offers time-tested solutions. But there’s more to tell: kids can be a mystery and even early feeding problems can be complex. Using real-life stories, my book illustrates potential pitfalls in teaching children how to eat and enjoy food. Unlike other books on childhood eating, Just Two More Bites provides insights so that when kids don’t eat as expected, and usual advice doesn’t work, parents can find their own solutions.
Establishing a mealtime routine can be challenging for some families. What advice do you have for parents whose child prefers to “graze” or take bites of food all day long?
Given a choice, lots of kids won’t sit for meals on their own. I advise parents never ask a toddler “do you want to eat?” Too often the answer is “no.” Instead, announce “it’s time to eat.” It is also OK to pick up your child and put them in a chair. But parents need to keep moving, be upbeat and say something like “WOW, look at what we are having today.” Your child may not eat as much as you’d like, but routines help kids eat meals and avoid day-long grazing. In the long run, I think it is easier for parents if they set the tone for meals with rules and routines. At first kids fuss, but with time they do it.
For families with picky eaters, mealtime can often turn into a food battle. Can you share some mealtime Do’s and Don’ts to help families turn mealtime into a positive experience?
Do offer small portions, make meals a social time and eat together.
Don’t force food, use bribes and rewards or talk about your child’s eating or not in front of him or her.
What is your approach to setting limits on ‘junk’ food?
Avoid talking about “junk” food as fun foods and implying that they are better than real food. If parents or other adults in the house eat them, don’t hide it in a secret drawer or cabinet. Sooner or later, it will be discovered, and too often seen as a hidden treasure. I think it’s best to let kids eat junk foods in small amounts and see them as “sometimes” foods that are OK to eat now and then.
You shared in your book that there are roughly nine million picky eaters under the age of five living in the US today. Picky eating can be a major worry for parents. How can parents determine if their child’s pickiness is more than a passing stage?
If parents answer “yes” to any of the questions below, picky eating may be more than a passing phase.
- Did your child’s eating problems start before the age of nine months?
- Is your child underweight or has growth rate dropped for no obvious reason?
- Does your child consistently refuse food based on color, shape, brand or texture?
- Is your child not eating table food by the first birthday?
- When eating, does your child arch, gag or vomit?
- Does your child “fall apart” or throw tantrums when offered new foods?
- Do meals drag on, lasting longer than thirty minutes?
- Does your child pouch food rather than swallow it?
- Does your child eat fewer than three times a day?
In your book, you caution parents on being sneaky with food. Describe some alternatives for families who feel the need to sneak objectionable food into their child’s diet.
The “sneaky” cook approach to getting kids to eat healthier food sends the wrong message and, even worse, it often backfires. If a child feels he has been tricked into eating a food he doesn’t want, he soon grows suspicious of all food a parent offers.
I tell parents to add grated carrots to sauce, flaxseed meal/ wheat germ to pancake batter, along with other ideas, but always to be careful of how they do it. Keep the focus on why we eat…food is fun; it tastes good and keeps us healthy and strong.
Can you share a quick and easy recipe that kids will enjoy eating and preparing?
Of the many foods I have made with preschoolers, the most popular, by far, has been Banana Pops.
- Crunchy cereal
- Popsicle sticks
- Zipper top plastic bag
- Rolling pin
- Put the cereal in the plastic bag. Let kids take turns crushing the cereal with a rolling pin.
- Cut bananas into halves or thirds and spear onto Popsicle sticks.
- Let each child dip their banana pop, first into the yogurt and then into the crushed cereal. (To make this less messy, use hand-over-hand for this step.)
What advice do you have when a child is stuck on baby food and not moving onto table foods?
Make it predictable, fun and easy. When a child isn’t eating as expected, it’s easy for parents to get pushy. While some kids may need a push to move ahead, there’s a fine line between a push that works and one that leads to problems. I find it helps to make food:
- Predictable– means that a child knows what’s coming. Before putting food into a child’s mouth, use a song or rhyme: Predictable- means that a child knows what’s coming. Before putting food into a child’s mouth, use a song or rhyme: “stir, stir, and lick” or “1, 2, 3 here it comes.”
- Fun– means that a child can say “no.” after being predictably pushy, and your child keeps turning away, back off. Depending on your child, you can try again after a few minutes or at the next meal.
- Easy – means different things depending on a child’s skills. It can be thickened puree, a crunch and crumble food or a finger food.
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Linda Piette, MS, RD is pediatric nutritionist and a licensed and registered dietitian. She has graduate and undergraduate degrees in food and nutrition (MS from Boston University. Piette has years of experience working in early intervention programs, medical clinics, preschools, private and public schools. She is national speaker and free-lance writer. Her book is available at any major book retailer.