Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters With Misha Collins From His New Book The Adventurous Eaters Club

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Adventurous Eaters Club Misha Collins

I had the chance to check out Misha and Vicki Collins' new family recipe book The Adventurous Eaters Club and it is filled with tips and recipes that you and your kids alike will love! I asked Misha what some of his tips for parents with picky eaters are and he gave me some of his best. You have to check out them out below! 

The Adventurous Eaters Club Misha Collins
We assume all kids prefer bland food. That’s just not true. It turns out tastes are learned and even the most junk-obsessed child can come to love a remarkable range of food—yes, including vegetables. (Shocking, I know.) So when our family faced “picky eater” problems, we looked to experts in pediatric nutrition to discover strategies for making mealtime a joyful, shared adventure instead of a battleground.

The biggest trick we learned is to make learning fun as you patiently, consistently expose kids to new foods. Here are some tips for doing that in ways that turn cooking together into a bonding experience for the whole family:

1. Play with your food. Really! Welcome kids into the kitchen and let them play and experiment. This was the most important step in transforming our family’s relationship with food. It means saying “yes” to some culinary visions that we adults might find, to put it diplomatically, “disgusting.” But the trade-off is that we have more fun at mealtimes together. Kids learn through play, and playing with food helps build familiarity… and if they know what’s in it, they’re more willing to taste it. So if they want eggs on the pizza, let them crack open eggs on the pizza. Try not to gag, because after the third or fourth dry heave, they might pick up on it and feel a little discouraged. Steel your stomach and praise their vision — even if the result isn’t a hit. Over time, celebrating adventurous eating will lead them to enjoy eating a range of foods, including things you never thought they’d enjoy (like brussels sprouts).

2. ...But don’t totally hand over the reins. Parents are in charge of stocking the fridge and ultimately deciding the menu. You get to choose which foods enter your home and which don’t. Eliminate “easy” processed foods. When they aren’t an option, it’s easier to get into the habit of fresh, whole foods. And don’t ask your kids, “What do you want for dinner?” Given the option, kids who’ve grown up accustomed to the standard American “kids’ meal” diet will seek out bland, beige, familiar things. It’s what they know. So open up their world. Show them that chicken doesn’t just come in a nugget, and potatoes are not the only vegetable that exists.

3. No force-feeding. Kids get to choose what to eat from the healthy options you’ve served, and how much to try. Don’t pressure them to eat even a single bite. Serve it and back off. Parental pressure stifles the child’s appetite and kicks off the power struggle. Empower your kids to control their intake. This helps them develop a healthy relationship with food and agency over their body, so no micromanaging, bribing, negotiating, or forcing anything. Serve food. Then eat. They might go hungry sometimes, and that’s a learning experience, too. But mealtime can be a joy or a power struggle. You get to choose.

The Adventurous Eaters Club Misha Collins

4. Don’t Lecture. You know that dinner guest that goes on and on about their new fad diet or the virtues of probiotics and macronutrients? Yeah. We all do. Nobody wants that guy at the table, so don’t be that guy to your kids. Avoid labeling foods as “healthy” and extolling their virtues. (It turns out, kids become more resistant to foods labeled “healthy” anyway). You don’t work for Big Broccoli, so skip the free sales pitch.

5. Baby steps. Don’t expect to go from mac & cheese to hot chicken curry overnight. Take it a step at a time, offering a combination of familiar foods plus something new at mealtime. Serve tiny portions of the new foods so kids aren’t intimidated (and to minimize waste). Remember, even if they just smell the food, poke at it suspiciously, or talk about it, that’s part of the learning process—even if they reject it this time. No pressure.

6. Don’t short-order cook. This one is tough. We’ve been so brainwashed to believe that kids only eat “kids’ menu” items, so it’s hard not to prepare special kids’ meals. But if parents keep making grilled cheese day after day, kids get the message that they aren’t expected to learn to eat anything else and they won’t evolve their habits. So one family eats one meal.

7. Embrace diversity. Don’t label foods “good” or “bad”. Celebrate all foods and focus on eating variety with emphasis on mostly real, whole foods. Of course drinking a constant stream of Oreo milkshakes on a daily basis probably isn’t ideal, but don’t demonize it as an occasional treat. Some foods have a certain celebratory value, rather than nutritional value. Instead of food shaming, avoid buying nutritionally empty foods as a rule and instead load up on fresh whole foods. And on occasion, go ahead and indulge in that marshmallow-topped pizza.

8. Patience. Remember, you’re training yourself, too. Develop a zen-like patience and don’t forget that taste is learned. It can take children up to 15 tastes to learn to accept and love a new food. Most parents in the US give up after two attempts. So just because your kid might have rejected cabbage on the first one or two or 10 attempts, doesn’t mean they’re biologically incapable of enjoying green food. Studies show that tastes change and given time. Your kids can learn to love the cabbage. Give it time.

9. Let them get hungry. We’re raising a generation of snackers, with kids in the U.S. consuming more than a third of their daily calories in snacks. Most of those snack calories are highly processed foods like crackers, muffins, and fruit packs. The French don’t believe in snacking. Sure, they don’t have everything figured out, but French children eat all kinds of foods that American kids would never dream of—and strict rules on meal-times can be partly credited for that. Pediatric food experts say set mealtimes and snack times — and stick to them. Stop snacking two hours before meals and don’t provide a snack after dinner (that’s a sneaky loophole for kids who prefer muffins to dinner). One of our kids went through an “I’m not hungry” phase and managed to snack on cold cereal and muffins after dinner — which we soon realized was a convenient way to escape having to try new foods. Put the kibosh on snacking outside of designated snacktime. When mealtime arrives, kids will be more willing to sample new foods. Hungry children are more willing to eat what they’re served.

10. Play. Make joy and play the center of cooking and eating together. Abandon table etiquette. Eat with giant serving utensils. Eat a meal without using your hands. Eat spaghetti with no utensils, just your hands. (or don’t. It’s really messy). Teaching children to enjoy the process, savor foods, taste with open curiosity and play will help build a happier, healthier, more connected family. At least, that’s what happened to us.

Bonus: Let them “break the rules.” As long as it’s not a safety risk, teach what you know, but let them try it their way, too. Grate the cheese upside down and use the handle of the spoon can be used for stirring. Remember: it’s just one meal… but if you let it be fun, it can also become a life-long happy memory. 

Learn more and find out where to buy your copy at www.adventurouseatersclub.com! Thanks to Misha Collins for these tips and sending me his book for review. 

100% of author profits from the sale of the book are going to charity including The Edible Schoolyard Project. The Edible Schoolyard Project is dedicated to transforming the health of children and the planet by designing hands-on experiences in the garden, kitchen, and cafeteria that connect children to food, nature, and to each other.

The Adventurous Eaters Club Misha Collins

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