Picky eating in South Africa

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 17, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara, My daughter is 4 years old and I am struggling with her to eat proper food, such as vegetables and fruit. She only eats certain foods such as Borewors, pasta, brown bread, cheese, biscuits, noodles, meat, sausage rolls, pizza, popcorn, chips, polony, and meatballs.

I have tried for her to eat fruit such as apples, bananas, grapes, peaches etc. She just screams. I have done mashed potatoes and vegetables with meat - she will not eat the vegetables or mash at all. What can I do to make meal times more pleasurable? A lot of food goes to the bin every time.  I worry about her health as she gets sick a lot. She takes the veg purity juice I give her and fruit juices.

From: Tracey, South Africa


Dear Readers,

I apologize for not posting yesterday; I've been sick. That will also explain why today's topic is one we've seen before. I needed something  I didn't need to research, plus I could hear desperation in this mother's voice, so I hope you again share some of your experiences. While I'm at it, I want to tell you how impressed I (almost always) am with the thoughtful and detailed answers you provide. By the way, I'm always interested in feedback, especially if a Q&A has been helpful to you, so feel free to send it along, not for publication unless, of course, it's so wonderful I can't resist!

Dear Tracey,


Well, I have to admit, I don't know what Borewors are but here's what I do know: The more you push fruits and vegetables on her, the less likely she is to eat them. The more you push any food on her and the more upset you get at what she doesn't eat, the more control it gives her. It becomes negative attention and it becomes a pattern, even if she doesn't want it to be.


Your job as a mother is to put an array of healthy, tasty food in front of her and then let her choose what she wants to eat. Period. Stop nagging her. Stop begging her. Stop mashing her food and doctoring it for her. Judge what she eats over the course of a week, not on any individual day. I bet it won't be as bad as you think. Frankly, her eating does not sound disordered to me; it sounds like a typical 4-year-old. Is she gaining weight? Is she healthy and happy? Is the pediatrician concerned? These are the issues to pay attention to.This is what I wrote about picky eating:

"Feast your eyes on a picky eater and most likely you'll find an anxious parent nearby who won't hesitate to bribe or beg to get a nutritious morsel down a child's throat. In these families, mealtime is often a battle of wills where someone ends up in tears, and it's frequently not the child. If this describes what you do in your home, nutritionists and pediatricians have one word of advice: Stop."

Read more on picky eaters here.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.




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8 comments so far...
  1. I agree with the negative attention thing. Try sitting her at the dinner table with everyone else but have her plate be empty. Serve a salad with grilled chicken and let her see everyone enjoying there meals (MMMM this tomato is yummy etc etc). Your tell her that this is what you made for dinner and if she wants some she can and you are NOT making anything else, then let her ask for the items she wants. I bet once she see's everyone enjoying dinner and that there is nothing on her plate and your not begging her to eat then she will want some.

    Posted by Rachael March 17, 10 09:42 AM
  1. My 3-yr old son isn't a very adventurous eater, especially when it comes to fruits and veggies, so my approach is to put the healthy stuff IN something else. I provide a lot of home-made (healthy recipe) muffins and pancakes with blueberries or made with canned pumpkin. My husband makes a veggie-laden pureed pasta sauce (often with sauteed ground buffalo, pureed right along with the veggies - the texture is thick and creamy) and freezes it in ice-cube trays for quick meals. My son LOVES Dr. Praeger's brand spinach cakes (they taste like french fries, but with reasonable ingredients). One with a scrambled egg is actually a pretty healthy supper.

    That said, some nights (dinners are the worst), he refuses something he found delicious just a few days before. We roll with it, offer one alternative to the meal (a pbj, yogurt, cheese and whole-grain crackers) that will tide him over until breakfast, and start fresh in the morning.

    Perhaps a book praising a character for trying something new would plant the idea. But that's as far as I'd go: everything I've read says not to push food - as Barbara says, they'll only push it right back.

    Posted by matthew'smom March 17, 10 10:00 AM
  1. I agree with Barbara - over the course of the week it's probably not as bad as you think. Also, kids won't go hungry, so if you keep presenting healthy options, they're bound to eat some eventually. n Does she go to daycare or preschool and eat there? This may have an effect on what she eats at home - if it's chicken nugget day at school, my daughter just isn't hungry by dinner time!

    I don't believe in hiding the veg in other foods, but then my DD hasn't been picky overall (again, looking at a week or two in total, there are days she won't eat a carrot, and days she can't get enought) I think the key thing is not to stress and make it a power struggle, along with repeatedly presenting healthy options. best of luck

    Posted by Shauna March 17, 10 11:01 AM
  1. Actually, I completely disagree that behind almost every picky eater is an anxious parent. I think when someone does not have a picky eater, it is easy to blame the parent, but not at all helpful.

    One of my kids is a great eater, and one is picky. For the picky one, it seems to be a texture issue. She is 6 now, but she still sometimes gags on fruits and vegetables. But now she is old enough to have small bites of the things she doesn't like. We always talk about how some day she might like something she doesn't like now.

    At 3 years old, there was not anything I could do to encourage my daughter to eat foods she didn't like. I'd offer small amounts and she would NEVER eat them. She would get fruit through applesauce, dried fruit, and fruit leathers made from fruit. I would also put veggies and fruit in muffins and breads. She loves bread products, so I make sure almost all of what she eats is whole grain.

    Posted by Amy March 17, 10 12:43 PM
  1. Kids won't starve. If they are truly hungry, they will eat. I am not a restaurant. We cook one dinner in the house, and it's healthy and good. If my kids don't want to eat it, they don't have to -- but that's what's for dinner. They can wait until morning if they don't want the supper. We do not present that in a punitive way; it's just matter-of-fact. They can choose to eat, or they can choose not to. If they choose not to, they'll surely survive until breakfast!

    As for what they eat, we do have a rule that if you want seconds of something, you have to finish what is on your plate; so, no second helping of pasta if that salad is still sitting there, untouched. And no dessert unless you've eaten your entire supper, including the veggies. But we don't have a "clean your plate or else" rule either -- again, just that in order to get more food, you have to first eat the food in front of you.

    Do they always eat their veggies? No. But somehow they seem to be able to stomach the veggies if they know there is apple pie at the end. :-)

    But basically, treat it as matter-of-factly as possible; don't jump through any hoops to get them to eat; don't reward eating or not eating with special attention. You want to avoid power struggles, and avoid portraying food as good or bad -- avoid the potential for eating disorders down the road.

    Posted by jlen March 17, 10 02:51 PM
  1. Rachael--would you want to spend all night and the entire next day with an unreasonably hungry 4-year-old?

    I used to believe that people with "picky eaters" were doing something wrong--not offering the proper foods, or being too lenient. Then my son morphed from a baby who joyfully scarfed down everything in front of him, be it veggie, fruit, or ethnic goodie; to a toddler/preschooler who will eat only about 9 foods. Really, it's amazing. And guess what? Now I'm one of those parents who makes an "extra" meal when my preschooler refuses what my husband and I are eating. It's either that or have him dissolve into miserable, hungry tears; which as Barbara points out is exactly the opposite of what you want mealtime to be.

    I think children come around as they grow older and are repeatedly exposed to the foods they refuse, not to mention are old enough to fully comprehend consequences ("you have to have a bite of broccoli or blah blah blah"). Mealtime should not be a time of fighting, struggling, and tears, so I guess I'll have to keep offering foods I know will be rejected as I reach into my trusty arsenal of pasta, sunflower butter sandwiches, and organic chicken nuggets.

    Posted by Amanda March 17, 10 08:04 PM
  1. Amanda - the kid won't starve. I've always done the 'one meal for everyone' thing at my house, and the picky eater manages. I do try to make sure there's at least one thing I know that the picky one will eat, and of course she gets milk, too. You're not helping your preschooler learn to like different things by always giving him 'safe' foods. How can he turn around and decide he likes broccoli if it's never on his plate?

    I agree with Amy that it's not always an anxious parent thing. My first child is a very adventurous eater, his younger sister, not so much. She's been somewhat picky from the get-go - never wanted any mushed food, only finger foods, etc.. If anything, my approach with her was more laid back. Over time, she's become much more open to trying new things, although she's not necessarily any more likely to actually like them. She's also able to politely say 'I don't care for this' instead of 'Ewww, gross!', and is willing/able to eat around the things she doesn't like.

    Posted by akmom March 18, 10 06:52 AM
  1. This child is choosing foods that have a fair amount of salt. There is some biological reason--it's not a matter of mood. She seems to avoid
    acidic foods.

    If I had to feed this child I would try combinations of veg and cheese like broccoli and cheese sauce, sliced zucchini and tomatoes baked with cheese, and ask her to taste one forkful. I would make such foods as the main dish for some meals with rice or pasta on the side. Once the child agrees that veg can be seasoned well, then I would ask her to help cook.

    I would work on the seasoned veg dishes and not worry about the raw fruit. Taste buds do change over time. I might be tempted to ask the dentist about the avoidance of acidic foods in case there might be an explanation.

    Posted by Irene March 18, 10 08:29 AM
 
8 comments so far...
  1. I agree with the negative attention thing. Try sitting her at the dinner table with everyone else but have her plate be empty. Serve a salad with grilled chicken and let her see everyone enjoying there meals (MMMM this tomato is yummy etc etc). Your tell her that this is what you made for dinner and if she wants some she can and you are NOT making anything else, then let her ask for the items she wants. I bet once she see's everyone enjoying dinner and that there is nothing on her plate and your not begging her to eat then she will want some.

    Posted by Rachael March 17, 10 09:42 AM
  1. My 3-yr old son isn't a very adventurous eater, especially when it comes to fruits and veggies, so my approach is to put the healthy stuff IN something else. I provide a lot of home-made (healthy recipe) muffins and pancakes with blueberries or made with canned pumpkin. My husband makes a veggie-laden pureed pasta sauce (often with sauteed ground buffalo, pureed right along with the veggies - the texture is thick and creamy) and freezes it in ice-cube trays for quick meals. My son LOVES Dr. Praeger's brand spinach cakes (they taste like french fries, but with reasonable ingredients). One with a scrambled egg is actually a pretty healthy supper.

    That said, some nights (dinners are the worst), he refuses something he found delicious just a few days before. We roll with it, offer one alternative to the meal (a pbj, yogurt, cheese and whole-grain crackers) that will tide him over until breakfast, and start fresh in the morning.

    Perhaps a book praising a character for trying something new would plant the idea. But that's as far as I'd go: everything I've read says not to push food - as Barbara says, they'll only push it right back.

    Posted by matthew'smom March 17, 10 10:00 AM
  1. I agree with Barbara - over the course of the week it's probably not as bad as you think. Also, kids won't go hungry, so if you keep presenting healthy options, they're bound to eat some eventually. n Does she go to daycare or preschool and eat there? This may have an effect on what she eats at home - if it's chicken nugget day at school, my daughter just isn't hungry by dinner time!

    I don't believe in hiding the veg in other foods, but then my DD hasn't been picky overall (again, looking at a week or two in total, there are days she won't eat a carrot, and days she can't get enought) I think the key thing is not to stress and make it a power struggle, along with repeatedly presenting healthy options. best of luck

    Posted by Shauna March 17, 10 11:01 AM
  1. Actually, I completely disagree that behind almost every picky eater is an anxious parent. I think when someone does not have a picky eater, it is easy to blame the parent, but not at all helpful.

    One of my kids is a great eater, and one is picky. For the picky one, it seems to be a texture issue. She is 6 now, but she still sometimes gags on fruits and vegetables. But now she is old enough to have small bites of the things she doesn't like. We always talk about how some day she might like something she doesn't like now.

    At 3 years old, there was not anything I could do to encourage my daughter to eat foods she didn't like. I'd offer small amounts and she would NEVER eat them. She would get fruit through applesauce, dried fruit, and fruit leathers made from fruit. I would also put veggies and fruit in muffins and breads. She loves bread products, so I make sure almost all of what she eats is whole grain.

    Posted by Amy March 17, 10 12:43 PM
  1. Kids won't starve. If they are truly hungry, they will eat. I am not a restaurant. We cook one dinner in the house, and it's healthy and good. If my kids don't want to eat it, they don't have to -- but that's what's for dinner. They can wait until morning if they don't want the supper. We do not present that in a punitive way; it's just matter-of-fact. They can choose to eat, or they can choose not to. If they choose not to, they'll surely survive until breakfast!

    As for what they eat, we do have a rule that if you want seconds of something, you have to finish what is on your plate; so, no second helping of pasta if that salad is still sitting there, untouched. And no dessert unless you've eaten your entire supper, including the veggies. But we don't have a "clean your plate or else" rule either -- again, just that in order to get more food, you have to first eat the food in front of you.

    Do they always eat their veggies? No. But somehow they seem to be able to stomach the veggies if they know there is apple pie at the end. :-)

    But basically, treat it as matter-of-factly as possible; don't jump through any hoops to get them to eat; don't reward eating or not eating with special attention. You want to avoid power struggles, and avoid portraying food as good or bad -- avoid the potential for eating disorders down the road.

    Posted by jlen March 17, 10 02:51 PM
  1. Rachael--would you want to spend all night and the entire next day with an unreasonably hungry 4-year-old?

    I used to believe that people with "picky eaters" were doing something wrong--not offering the proper foods, or being too lenient. Then my son morphed from a baby who joyfully scarfed down everything in front of him, be it veggie, fruit, or ethnic goodie; to a toddler/preschooler who will eat only about 9 foods. Really, it's amazing. And guess what? Now I'm one of those parents who makes an "extra" meal when my preschooler refuses what my husband and I are eating. It's either that or have him dissolve into miserable, hungry tears; which as Barbara points out is exactly the opposite of what you want mealtime to be.

    I think children come around as they grow older and are repeatedly exposed to the foods they refuse, not to mention are old enough to fully comprehend consequences ("you have to have a bite of broccoli or blah blah blah"). Mealtime should not be a time of fighting, struggling, and tears, so I guess I'll have to keep offering foods I know will be rejected as I reach into my trusty arsenal of pasta, sunflower butter sandwiches, and organic chicken nuggets.

    Posted by Amanda March 17, 10 08:04 PM
  1. Amanda - the kid won't starve. I've always done the 'one meal for everyone' thing at my house, and the picky eater manages. I do try to make sure there's at least one thing I know that the picky one will eat, and of course she gets milk, too. You're not helping your preschooler learn to like different things by always giving him 'safe' foods. How can he turn around and decide he likes broccoli if it's never on his plate?

    I agree with Amy that it's not always an anxious parent thing. My first child is a very adventurous eater, his younger sister, not so much. She's been somewhat picky from the get-go - never wanted any mushed food, only finger foods, etc.. If anything, my approach with her was more laid back. Over time, she's become much more open to trying new things, although she's not necessarily any more likely to actually like them. She's also able to politely say 'I don't care for this' instead of 'Ewww, gross!', and is willing/able to eat around the things she doesn't like.

    Posted by akmom March 18, 10 06:52 AM
  1. This child is choosing foods that have a fair amount of salt. There is some biological reason--it's not a matter of mood. She seems to avoid
    acidic foods.

    If I had to feed this child I would try combinations of veg and cheese like broccoli and cheese sauce, sliced zucchini and tomatoes baked with cheese, and ask her to taste one forkful. I would make such foods as the main dish for some meals with rice or pasta on the side. Once the child agrees that veg can be seasoned well, then I would ask her to help cook.

    I would work on the seasoned veg dishes and not worry about the raw fruit. Taste buds do change over time. I might be tempted to ask the dentist about the avoidance of acidic foods in case there might be an explanation.

    Posted by Irene March 18, 10 08:29 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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