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Expanding Young Palates Now Might Prevent Picky Eating Later

By , SparkPeople Blogger
One of my biggest pet peeves about eating out with my family are kids menus. Many times I end up ordering food for them off of the adult menu, because the variety of their menu leaves a lot to be desired. I have to bite my tongue to keep from telling the restaurant manager that buttered noodles and corn dogs aren't a staple of every young child's diet, and that it's okay to offer something other than French fries as a side item. I understand that not every parent wants to order food the way I do, but at least having more options would be nice.

My kids don't love every food I make them try, whether it's something at a restaurant or something I cook at home. I attempt to introduce them to a wide variety of foods because I want them to know that there's more to life than pizza and grilled cheese. Sometimes it works well. For example, my daughter loves black beans and my son willingly eats zucchini. (These aren't particularly strange foods, just things that some kids won't eat.) Sometimes my strategy doesn't work well. We've had nights where I make dinner, they take one look at it and say "I don't want to eat that." But I keep trying. Research shows that introducing young children to a wide variety of foods, and even eating a variety of foods during pregnancy, can make them willing to try more foods as they get older.

"Nutritionists say toddlers are naturally open to a wider range of flavors. “We don’t challenge toddlers enough by experimenting with food,’’ says Jamie S. Stang of the University of Minnesota, a specialist on child and maternal nutrition. 'As long as the textures are appropriate for kids and there are no known food allergies, there is nothing wrong with introducing different foods.'" Some research has shown that expectant mothers who eat a lot of spicy foods, for example, have children who are more likely to have the same taste preferences. Flavorings like garlic and vanilla can also be transmitted through breastmilk, making infants more likely to accept these tastes easily.

Nutritionists recommend introducing a food 20 times before deciding that a toddler doesn't like it. For me, that's been frustrating. I don't like wasting food or having to prepare more than one meal when I decide to give one child a food they've rejected in the past. But I have found times where I make a dinner that wasn't well-received the first time I served it, and this time they gobble it up. Unless I'm sure it's a food one of my kids totally hates, I don't make multiple meals and I do make them at least try a few bites. I've found this makes meal time more agreeable for all of us, and makes them more likely to choose something more adventurous than grilled cheese when we go out to dinner- at least some of the time.

What do you think? Do you (or have you) use any strategies to help your kids avoid becoming picky eaters? Do you introduce them to a wide variety of foods?