One question we always get is: How do I avoid raising a fussy eater. By age two, kids know how to articulate what they want. Especially, if what they want is a hearty plate of chicken nuggets with an extra, extra large serving of french fries. Let’s be honest, french fries are delicious and rare is the child who always makes the right food choice, but according to experts there’s a lot that can be done even before age two to help kids embrace real foods.
We visited the home of Shira Lenchewski MS, RD, a registered dietitian, celeb nutritionist and one of our favorite go-tos for clean snack recipes. (Seriously, check out her Instagram @shira_rd, where she shares her micro-recipe videos). Shira, who is also the author of The Food Therapist is the epitome of healthy eating, laid-back Cali style, and is a trusted advisor of many in-the-know mothers and families in L.A.
We asked her what actually works.
Q: Give it to us straight, how does one raise a non-picky eater?
A: The focus should be on helping kids have a healthy relationship with food. Kids need anywhere between 10 to 15 exposures to a new food before they feel really comfortable with it. It’s not because they will never eat that food, it’s just that change is really scary for them.
Kids need anywhere between 10 to 15 exposures to a new food before they feel really comfortable with it…Change is really scary for them.Shira Lenchewski ms, rd
Q: What’s a common mistake parents often make in trying to establish this relationship?
A: Kids go through periods when they are growing really rapidly— and periods when they are not growing as rapidly. When they are not growing as rapidly, they aren’t as hungry. But a lot of times, parents will (understandably) continue to push, and the kid will end up getting a lot of attention in the process for not eating. One of the very best and hardest things to do is to be both neutral and warm. That way mealtimes are less of a loaded thing.
Q: That makes complete sense. For a parent, the drive to nourish one’s child is so intense, it’s hard to take that step back and put their lack of interest in perspective. In what other ways do parents’ behavior influence a kid’s relationship with food?
A: You are your kids biggest heroes— you are who they look up to, so they’re going to be looking at you for direction. Do you have a healthy relationship with food? The biggest gift you can give your kids is showing them that you love food and that it’s not wound up in emotions or guilt. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a pizza, but don’t be like “Ugh, I’m so mad about it.” We grow up associating food with rewards, you have a bad day and you think “Ok, I’m going to have some ice cream.” Or if you are a good girl, you will get pizza. It’s healthy to separate food from guilt or emotions.
Q: What are some the best activities you can do with your kid?
A: Bring them to the farmers market, bring them into the kitchen — from an early age, get them to play with the textures, colors and smells of real food. As they get older, let them help you cook. Yes, it will be messy— but if you give them little jobs, like “put blueberries into the pancake batter,” or “close the refrigerator door”— they will feel really involved and the more involved they are, the more they will appreciate the food.
THE CHEAT SHEET
- A young child may need to be exposed to a new flavor a dozen or more times, before they learn to embrace it.
- Because growth spurts come and go, kids may not be as hungry. Do your best to be neutral and warm.
- Have a healthy relationship with food, try to ditch guilt from eating.
- Help kids learn about real food early and bring them into the process, whether it’s cooking or visiting a farmer’s market.