A note about the author, Haleisa Johnson is the Early Childhood Coordinator with Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness.
Since being the NE Iowa Food & Fitness Coordinator, I have heard children described as "picky eaters," "fussy eaters," "finicky eaters" and "persnickety eaters."
Teachers, daycare providers, and parents continuously ask me, "How can I get children to taste new foods or eat better?" They tell me kids say vegetables are ‘icky’ or ‘gross.' They tell me what they do to try to get kids to eat better...like promise that they can get a new toy, more time to play on video games, or have dessert if they just take a taste.
First of all, these following questions all enter my head at once when hearing this.
What’s eating better? What are daycares serving? What is the family eating? Is it good food? Is it fast food? Is it convenient food? How are vegetables being served? Are the adults eating them? What are children exposed to for the meals and snacks? Is it real food? These are loaded questions but ones that should be asked.
My personal perspective isn’t to raise a perfect eater but to help children develop life long skills to feed themselves well. If children are exposed to real food and healthier options early in their life, research shows they will form healthier habits for a lifetime and food won’t be so much of an issue for them. Research also shows the better you eat for a lifetime, the healthier you will be. I’m sure you have heard the old saying – "You are what you eat." There really is some real truth to that.
So you may be asking - What’s real food? Real food is whole, single-ingredient food. It is mostly unprocessed, free of chemical additives and rich in nutrients. In essence, it's the type of food human beings ate exclusively for thousands of years. I tell people if your grandmother or great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it or the ingredients in it– it probably isn’t real food.
I happen to like most vegetables. However, some I’m not a real fan of, but it depends how they are served. I really like raw carrots or if they are in soups or salads, but I don’t particularly like steamed carrots. I don’t care for cooked beets, but I like them shredded raw in salads. My mother was a wonderful cook, but she liked her vegetables cooked until you could mash them – I say icky. I like them tender crisp.
So why am I telling you my preference? Kids are the same way. Textures and taste are important to them. Kids may not like cucumbers but most like pickles. I raised a daughter who refuses to even look at ketchup but loves spaghetti sauce. Some people can’t understand that you need to expose children to foods regularly and routinely ask them to try a bite. It takes maybe 10 plus times before young children develop acceptance for a new food. It may take patience and experimenting with serving it in different ways. If you do this, hopefully you won’t need to make promises that will never really help kids eat better in the long run.