Meal Prep Friday: Dealing with Picky Eating Kids

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

 

 

“He won’t eat anything but Mac & Cheese, chicken nuggets and Goldfish.”

 

“I put vegetables on her plate every night, but after awhile, I just get tired of throwing food away”

 

“We’d spend hours at the dinner table if I ‘made’ him eat meat or anything green. Basically he would starve himself, unless he gets what he wants: typically cereal, Eggo waffles or maybe a quesadilla on a good day.”

 

“I’ve gotten to the point where I will allow them to eat what they want, as long as it’s fortified (like cereal)…at least they are getting SOMETHING in…”

 

“I try to just hide health foods in smoothies and casseroles so they can get some sort of nutrition…”

 

Said many, many, many parents.

 

Picky eaters. Picky kids. Stubborn kids.

 

 

Like one of the parents said, it could be an hours-on-end ordeal at the dinner table if ‘eating your meat and veggies’ was the only option for the kiddo.

 

So what’s a parent to do?

 

I mean seriously…you want your kid to eat a healthy, balanced diet, but when it comes to:

 

Not eating anything on their plate vs. Eating something (anything)

 

 

…You more than likely, would choose the latter right?

 

And thus the beat (and the battle) goes on.

 

Hmph. This whole being a parent thing is tough.

 

You wonder: How did my little Hayley or Matthew get like this in the first place? (picky).

 

There can be many causes of picky eating.

 

Personality, sensory issues, psychological aversions and bad habits are possible culprits. After all, every person has likes and dislikes when it comes to food, as well as good memories and not so good memories (for instance, I will never eat a hot dog again after storing one in my sock drawer as an 8-year-old to keep on hand to give to my dog as a dog treat. Three weeks later…it was not a pretty picture).

 

In addition, a less known culprit has to do with your child’s brain-gut connection: an imbalance in the mix of microbes that live in his or her gut may contribute to extreme pickiness.

 

In other words: Gut health. Bad bacteria. And, potentially leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability due to ‘wear and tear’ from eating less than optimal foods—sugar, processed foods, grains, dairy products, and even baby formula and processed baby food products).

 

In fact, when looking closer at any child presenting with picky eating, or even digestive problems, the majority of cases actually began at or around the time of weaning.

 

There often comes a time when a mother replaces breast milk with formula and consequently, other food components get introduced that are not natural to a babies gut flora, like gluten, Enzymatically hydrolyzed reduced minerals, whey protein concentrate, palm olein, soy, coconut, high-oleic safflower oils, lactose etc…

 

…Resulting in: Our guts being introduced to lots of bad bacteria.

 

Our guts are home to trillions of bacteria—both good and bad. However, over time, when we consume less than quality foods (such as, these formulas, fake foods, and/or ‘kid food’ we feed our kids nowadays, thinking: They are just kids; they can handle it), then our bodies become HOME to lots of bad bacteria…and over time, that bad bacteria becomes the ‘norm’ of a gut—and an unhealthy gut at that.

 

It’s a downhill slope from there.

 

When our gut flora is off…then our brains get thrown off—or rather, made to crave particular foods (and detest other types of foods).

 

How so?

 

Certain bacteria actually chemically “crave” particular kinds of food. This bacteria communicates the demands for these foods to the brain.

 

In this way, our gut health (good and bad bacteria) actually influences the kinds of food we, their host, ‘chooses’ and prefers to eat (and not eat).

 

If a kiddo has an imbalance or overgrowth of certain unhealthy gut flora, those unwelcome gut bugs may lead him to crave specific types of food. [For example, an overgrowth of yeast may cause a child to crave starchy foods with simple sugars (such as white bread, pretzels, or Goldfish)].

 

 

In addition, not only do our kids end up craving (and demanding) certain foods [vs. our more preferred options we’d love them to eat (protein, veggies, fruits, healthy fats)], but their little brains are also directly influenced by the health of their guts.

 

Unbalanced gut flora is directly attributed to: ADD/ADHD, poor behavior and ‘listening’, moodiness, outbursts of anger or stress, and even Autism.

 

Here are a few things to consider trying with your ‘picky eater’ to make meal time less of a struggle (and boost your child’s nutrition in the process):

 

 

Heal the Gut. Often times, when it comes to the ROOT cause of picky eating, healing their little guts is essential to the brain-body connection (i.e. eliminating some of the pickniess because their brains are not CRYING OUT for more: sugar, carbs, no protein, etc.). Remember,t he balance of bacteria in your child’s body, especially their gut, plays a HUGE role in dictating what they (and we) crave to eat. Healthy balanced bacteria craves a healthy balanced diet versus: An imbalance of ‘bad’ bacteria actually send signals through the bloodstream to the brain, which demand their preferred food – starch, sugar, and other carbohydrates. In other words: When the gut flora is balanced, we don’t have the intense cravings for starches and sweets, or the exclusion of unhealthy food

 

A few steps to try for just 30 days to experiment with to see how your child benefits from a gut-healing diet…

 

  1. Remove inflammatory foods that are difficult to digest and high allergen: Gluten, other grains, sugars, and chemicals in non-food items (food dyes, preservatives, etc)

 

  1. Provide foods that supply easy-to-digest nutrients to the gut to facilitate in repair and healing: bone broth and homemade Chicken stock, gelatin, fresh homemade juice, healthy fats.

 

  1. Provide probiotics that re-populate the gut with healthy flora (see below).

 

It’s worth a try…

 

Try a probiotic. As simple as it sounds, this could be a huge game-changer for the picky eater. I wrote up all about Probiotics in this post here. In essence: a probiotic contains tons of good bacteria to do away with all the bad bactria. Reach for a quality probiotic with higher numbers (talking billions) of Colony Forming Units (CFUs) in a variety of bacteria strains, and supplement with it 1-2 times per day (start once, in the morning or at night, and build to two times for a supplemental support dose).

 

A few great brands include: Prescript-Assist (1 capsule), Inner-Eco’s flavored probiotics  (coconut water based; have your kids take 1-2 TBSP x twice per day), and BioKult (1 capsule).

 

 

Kid doesn’t swallow pills? No problem. Simply crush up the capsules/powder into food or smoothies and your kid will never know the difference.

 

One parent’s testimony with integrating a probiotic was as follows:

 

“Within 2 weeks, our son’s eating pattern showed improvement.

 

I realized that it could just be a coincidence or the placebo effect because we told him that the pills were to improve his eating. However, his range of edible foods has increased widely – and I believe that the probiotics had something to do with it, given how dramatically things started to change soon after starting them. It began with him eating larger quantities of the same foods he’d always liked. Then he started sniffing foods that he’d refused to eat in the past and saying, ‘Mmm… that smells good.’

 

Next, when we ask him to try new foods, he would do it. For the first time, he actually liked some of the new tastes that he tried.

 

Although he still rejected many of them, he has dramatically expanded his dietary range. He started eating all kinds of meat, certain fruits and certain vegetables. Our family anxiety level (including his) has dramatically reduced.”

 

Get Educated. What foods are optimal for a thriving child? The answer is actually no different than it is for yourself: Real food. Meat, vegetables, fresh fruits, some starch, no sugar, healthy fats (avocados, raw nuts and seeds, egg yolks, grassfed butter, coconut oil and butter, olive oil, etc.). “Oh but never! Never in a million years would Sarah eat ‘big people’ food!’ you say. Why not?! You are basing your conception on America’s marketing schemes to children (Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal commercials, Chewy Bars for kids, Fruit Gushers served during half-time at soccer games, birthday cupcakes every week in the classroom at school). While these foods certainly are stereotyped as ‘kid foods’, it does not mean your kid was meant to thrive off of them—much less their body meant to digest and consume them. Before you can begin helping set your child up for success with their nutrition—you have to first believe that they actually can (and were designed) to eat real food…just like you (and I am talking 80/20 here people…no one is perfect!). Need some ideas for ‘real foods’ to serve up that are tasty? Check out this post here….

 

Play with your food. If anything, encourage your kids to ‘play’ with the foods they are defiant against—touch it, kiss it, put it on their tongue (and spit it out)…This can be a great way for getting defiant kids at least comfortable with the idea of new foods. Tell them these ‘new foods’ are part of a science experiment and they are food scientists. Include a familiar food on their plate as well for comfort’s sake.

 

All about the presentation. Make it FUN!!! Kids like fun right? Why not bring fun to meal time? Pretend your kitchen is a restaurant come dinner time, and have your kids act as the waiters or waitresses, taking your order for what you prepared that night. Allowing them to serve both you and themselves for meal time. At lunch time, create cute turkey and ham roll-ups with Applegate Farm’s deli meat slices, toothpicks and cherry tomatoes, grapes, cucumber or apple slices. Decorate celery sticks in ants on a log style or make eating carrots and other veggie sticks fun by dipping in a homemade ranch. Create a happy face out of bacon and eggs in the morning. For lunch, choose lots of fun finger foods to fill a homemade version of Lunchables, like mini chicken sausages or nitrate-free hotdogs (Applegate Farms), a dried fruit and nut homemade trail mix, steamed broccoli and a homemade Tzatziki sauce. Mini-pizzas out of Nitrate-free pepperonis topped with some red sauce and grass-fed cheese, baked in the toaster oven for about 10-minutes. You get the picture…

 

 

Transition Slowly. Ok so you’ve woken up. You realize you’ve allowed some foods to be part of your kids’ diet—more than you would like…and you’ve got some digging to do with him or her to get out of it (perhaps even against their own desire). Remembering once more that Rome was not built in a day…begin the transition slowly. Such as switching their flour tortillas to a almond flour tortilla or homemade coconut flour tortilla…cutting out the daily juice, and replacing it with fruit infused water…revamping pancakes with a homemade banana or almond flour pancake. In other words: focusing primarily on enhancing your kid’s food quality.

 

Another mom shares her experience on taking her kid off grains and dairy—in turn, she saw a night and day difference in not only how her daughters, but also how they looked:

 

“As a mom I know how hard it is to raise and feed a kid, but it only takes those first years and some patience and consistency to lay a strong foundation in the right direction, getting frustrated because we don’t see results right away is much like waiting for a cancer patient to recover in a week, it takes as much time to get healthier as it took to become sick. I made a slow progression with my first daughter by moving her away from all sorts of cereals, then casein and finally all processed foods by following the steps I mentioned before. It took about a year for us to start seeing noticeable changes in her.

 

I got all sorts of advice and warnings about what my husband and I were doing. “Don’t you think she should get onto medication?” “Doctors recommend more grains! Are you smarter than the doctors?” “Did you go to Medical school?” at times I was afraid that I was not helping my daughters, but I listened to nutritionists I respected and learned all I could about how food acted on the body. Once we began seeing the changes I had hoped for in my eldest and the lack of problems with my other children I became convinced. So don’t become discouraged when you do not see immediate results. You will see some changes but the bigger ones take time. Give your self the time to make a lifestyle change and you will see as I did that consistency and patience are the keys to success.”

 

 

Don’t Cave. Stop being a push-over around meals. Really, just stop it. Once our kids are ‘on to us’ (i.e. knowing they can get their way with having dessert first, or resorting to their fav Spaghetti-O’s day in and day out), then they can have us wrapped around their fingers (fixing separate meals for them; pulling out the cereal box when they refuse to eat your homemade meatloaf and greenbeans; indulging their sugar cravings; etc.). At dinnertime, begin to make it a ritual to create a kid-friendly and adult-friendly dish that can please the ‘masses.’ If they refuse to eat it…so be it. “But what kind of parent am I to let them…starve?!” No. they are not going to starve. They may go to bed a bit hungrier than usual, but come breakfast the next morning, focus on fixing them a healthy, nutritious breakfast with some staples you know they will like (such as eggs and bacon, or homemade coconut-flour based blueberry muffins, or Steve’s Paleo Goods Krunch Cereal in almond milk or Greek yogurt). The take home? You are exposing them and giving them the opportunity to eat new things that will nourish their bodies…and they may, just may, begin to realize that it’s not going to kill you to eat a meal you don’t really like!

 

Mindful Meals. Set the tone for meal times that allows your kiddos to become connected with their food and foundational dietary practices (chewing their food thoroughly, tasting their food, enjoying their food, etc.). Turn the TV off, create conversation starters (i.e. if you could have any super power, what would it be and why?), even rate your level of hunger/fullness on a scale of 1-10 before and after the meal to begin to create awareness around food’s energizing properties.

 

Don’t Keep it in the House. I may not have kids at the moment, BUT if there is one thing I’ve learned from working with kids over the past nearly 20 years (i.e. babysitting, nannying and now working as a pediatric occupational therapist), the less ‘crazy’ and more mindful, behaved kids were not strung out on sugar or carbohydrates. In all seriousness, the kids who seemed to be more at peace, respectful, engaged in conversation, imaginative, etc. were the kids who’s pantries and fridges ere not stocked full with ‘kid food’ such as processed snack crackers, fake fruit gummies, candy, cookies, Kraft, Chef-Boy-R-D, Kids Cuisines, etc. Instead, the parents who kept more real foods around (fresh fruits, veggie sticks, turkey roll-ups, meat and veggies for main meals, organic grassfed yogurt, raw grassfed cheese, chicken sausages, eggs, raw nutbutter, homemade trail mixes, the occasional bar like a Lara Bar or an RX Bar, etc.)…essentially, don’t keep the junk in the home, and choose to stock your pantry and kitchen with more real-food eats. You may not be able to control what goes on outside the home all the time, but you can guide and usher quality choices on your watch in a don’t-make-it-a-big-deal kind of way.

 

 

Get them Involved. Rally the troops to link arms with you on their road to eating cleaner! Give them choices and say in the preference of what’s served on their plates (for example, offering two veggies – letting them pick one). Or take them to a grocery store and say they have to choose one veggie but it can be anything. Then (cherry on top moment), have them help cook it! In fact, getting the kids involved in the cooking process in general can be posed as a fun ‘science experiment’ in the lab (they help you concoct and create), or as an ‘exquisite dinner’ you both prepare for the ‘King and Queen’ of the household, etc…Make it fun! You could also create a small home garden—complete with veggies, herbs or fruits—and get the kids involved in the harvesting, picking, preparing and cooking their own work of their hands.

 

Revamp Kid Friendly Versions. I have a recipe for EVERY single kid-fave known to man with a healthier twist. Experiment! Check out some of my all time faves below!

 

Remember, YOU are the teacher. No one else in life is really teaching your kids these all around crucial life lessons for self care (for life). Keep your primary focus as a ‘teacher’ on helping kids learn how to eat, and not feeling or believing you have to be a drill sergeant, forcing things down their throats. Instead you are the guide.

 

Don’t beat yourself up. Rome was NOT built in a day. That being said, it may feel like an uphill battle at first. Keep positive with your kiddo around food, and model healthy behaviors—regardless of your kids’ backlash of broccoli and carrots on their plate; or their aversion to any form of meat whatsoever, don’t lose hope or steam. Continue to feed your body well and take care of yourself, encourage and make meal time a positive experience (not condemning or fighting with your kids around food). Serve up what you are going to serve, and keep consistent with your efforts to integrate new foods into their daily routines.

 

 

Ok. That’s a lot to take in I know. However, health can be re-won. The slow and steady win the race after all?

 

 

The more you can make food a ‘fun’ experience…the more receptivity you will have. In addition, just like you and me, when we are ‘told’ to do something…we don’t always want to do it, right?

 

See what happens when ‘hunger’ strikes, or it’s meal time, and what is served or available are the healthier or revamped versions of good ol’ standbys. Don’t make a big deal about anything. Just let it be what it will be…you may just find, that when your kiddo is actually hungry, he or she will be open to trying something—no questions or encouragement really needed.

 

 

 

Meal Prep Friday

 

Here are a few must-try recipes for this weekend ahead…on the road now to healthier kid-friendly options on the plate come dinnertime! Let me know how it goes! (The chicken nuggets are a must-try!)

 

Chic-Fil-A chicken nuggets

Quesadillas

Corndogs

Pizza

Tacos

Burger Patties & French-Fries

-Spaghetti & Meatballs

Poptarts

-Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal

-Ice Cream (Banana Ice CreamVanilla Ice Cream)

 

Yum!!!

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