Monday, December 31, 2012

Tips for Picky Eaters and Survival Situations. Are Your Kids Ready?

Monday is the day I share a little on food storage and emergency preparation.

One of the things I'm frequently asked is how I get my kids to eat so many different foods,  especially whole grain and  food storage foods.  I didn't think we were doing anything unusual in our methods of feeding our kids, until the morning my 6 year old came walking into my bedroom with a head of roasted garlic from the fridge and was popping the whole pieces in his that was a totally normal thing for a 6 year old to do. Then I realized maybe we weren't as normal as some would hope. Of course, he wasn't putting the garlic cloves in his nostrils or armpits, so I figured we must be doing something right. 

  I'm a chef  so many assume it is because I just know how to cook and make food taste delicious that my kids aren't so picky. Truth be known, that may be only part of the magic.  We've had my kids eating pretty amazing and healthy varieties of foods from the time they could barely start eating. It wasn't just because I'm a "foodie" that my kids are good eaters. It is because we as parents lead by example. Does that mean they always eat everything I make? Nope. It does mean that I never give up. Did I have my share of carrot puree meltdowns? Yes. Yes I did. Then I tried to serve the puree to my kids and it was even worse.
"My kids won't eat beans...(or whatever...). How will they do when that is all there is to eat, like in a crisis or survival situation?"Research shows 15 exposures or more to a new food make is more likely to be accepted by young children, then just leaving it out of the diet completely. That is a big key. They may reject a certain food at first, but your job is to not give up. Find different ways to present it, and have fun. If your child doesn't like carrots but you know they will probably need to eat them sometime in their lifetime...don't panic. Make it a game. Don't make it a matter of emotional pressure. Find that magic consistency now, before you're in a crisis situation and when you do find that magic consistency, put that in your emergency food storage. 
 There are legitimate reasons for picky eating. 
There are 3 main reasons for children being selective eaters that are rooted in natural survival.
  •  Children almost always will prefer sweet foods over bitter, by nature.
  • Children  suffer from neophobia, the fear of trying new foods.
  • Gifted Children have a dislike of too many textures, flavors, or smells together.

Dislike of bitter foods is a natural mechanism put in place  to protect us from eating things that are potentially poisonous or dangerous. That natural aversion to bitter flavors stems from the the fact that most foods that, in nature, are poisonous,  like leaves or flowers have that bitter flavor.  Kale for instance is the worst ever...Okay, maybe I personally don't like the stuff. I'm personally really glad that aversion is there.  That bitter aversion saves lives because they'll spit out the offensive material. Sweeter foods like fruits  are rich in energy. Let's face it, kids need energy foods and it makes sense for that to be their natural attraction.

Neophobia is a defense. It is the natural fear of new foods. It usually appears around age two. That is the age that most societies stop breast feeding. At this point, kids don't depend on mother entirely for nutrition and they will, as a defense, avoid foods. They don't know if it is safe to eat. This however doesn't apply to marbles. They'll eat those and put them up their nose all day. Just saying.
My kid is just freaking brilliant. Do you have one of those kids who doesn't like anything mixed or touching on his plate? I know adults like that (Hi Evil Tara...tee hee). I was happy to find that they were just geniuses. 
 Gifted kids with sensual overexcitability can be particularly aware of certain textures and flavors. I was one of those kids myself. They may be overwhelmed by many tastes and textures together. Some of them can even distinguish different herbs and spices in a dish. My mother, thankfully nurtured this. Adding a few herbs at a time and helping me determine what that new flavor was early on became a game. This of course means, if you have a child like this, that they will be genius rock-star chefs and you should make sure they keep that up. On the other hand, don't overwhelm them. The creamy, crunchy, flavor intense dinner you had planned may not be just right for their little mouth just yet. It isn't you...but don't give up!
They may not intentionally be acting stubborn or picky. It is however, our job to broaden their food perspectives now, before they are faced with a stressful situation.  Here are some great tips to use now.
Make them more Sweet or Savory Vegetables
Adding a flavored sweet lemon juice, honey or vinegar to a vegetable can work miracles to change the flavor profile of the veggie. Often, adding that sweetener, if done naturally, will also increase the nutritional value of the food. Carmelized onions work magic to add depth and a lightly sweet flavor to dishes. Keeping that in mind, use finely chopped or minced pieces of the onion. Also, it is remarkable what a little grilling can do to a vegetable or fruit. Tossing a piece of pineapple on a grill pan with a little olive oil and then adding that to the vegetable mixture was magic around my house when the kids were small. It still is. After you find that magic flavor addition, add it to your food storage!

Serve Vegetables Raw, Dehydrated or Freeze Dried
It depends on the vegetable, but many are sweeter raw than cooked. It's a great way to get kids to eat green vegetables, like peaszucchini and green beans when they are served freeze dried. By the way, a huge amount of nutritional value is retained in the freeze drying as a natural preservation process and it also gives them a snack texture that is hard to beat.  Seriously...I actually will eat peas all day long freeze dried. I've seen kids completely reject zucchini until I served it dehydrated and thin sliced like a potato chip. The flavor was mild and lightly salted, they would eat them like crazy! They're still eating their veggies. Don't get caught up in a mind set that says there is only one way to serve it. 

Serve Foods in a Favorite Texture Form
So your kiddo doesn't like oatmeal, but they really like meatballs. Well...who says you can't add some oats and oat fiber to your meatballs? The texture issue is a key factor in breaking up the monotony and food fatigue in emergency foods. Most of these foods cooked are the same soft texture. If you have a child who likes crunch foods, be sure to store  and learn how to cook foods that are crunchy as well like  Homemade crackers.  
Link Foods to Your Child's Interests Now and Respect Their Tastes

This takes a little creativity, but it works well with younger kids. Give that food storage recipe a personal twist by naming it after their favorite dinosaur, hobby or activity. No. Do not go with the  favorite hobby or activity name being " nose-picking-oatmeal". I'm not saying name the split pea soup mix "T-Rex-turds" either.  Unless you have gross boys that like sick-o names like that.  I am saying to make it personal. Drop-dead-laugh on the ground funny is good as well. Once you've found some shelf-stable kid friendly meals like my Meals in a Jar that you've adapted to your family's tastes, give your child their favorite picks. It is okay, for instance, for them to help you make some specific shelf stable meals that they know are their favorites.  I have one boy who can't live without carrot cake breakfast pudding
If I had called it "6 grain cereal with carrots in it"...there's no way I could have ever persuaded him to try it once. 
Respect Your Child's Tastes 
Everyone has foods they like and dislike. If your children don't want to eat broccoli, then don't force it.  Encourage it. Love them anyway. Keep it light and fun.  Add it often to meals in small amounts as you certainly want to encourage your child to try a variety of foods. If your child has tried something many,  many times in several different dishes and applications and says he or she doesn't like it, then respect her decision to say "no" to eating it. I will never be a fan of raw celery sticks (I call them alien fingers). My mom didn't stop serving celery. She just served it differently. I love it chopped and cooked in stews.  Keep serving that food at meal time. Be diligent. You'll never regret teaching your child to appreciate meals that are whole grain with a long-term shelf life if those foods can save their life. It may be a simple emergency, like your family losing employment that forces you to eat more beans and stored food. Wouldn't it be nice, to start now with creative food storage recipes and meals so that in a time of family crisis that are already stressful, the meals are received with enthusiasm? 

There you go. Help your picky eaters.

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

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