Year of Food: The Book you Must Read if you have Picky Eaters

If nutritionist Kelly Dorfman is out there reading this by some chance, I'd like to say this: "Thank you!" And: "I Completely Love You."

I'm reading Dorfman's book What's Eating Your Child;  The Hidden Connections Between Food and childhoo Ailments: Anxiety, Recurrent Ear Infections, Stomachaches, Picky Eating, Rashes, ADHD and More. That's a mouthful, no? But the best bit is this, tacked on the end: And What Every Parent Can Do About It.

There's so much good stuff in here that I can't even begin to talk about it yet. Instead, I'll drip feed it to you, bit by bit. Right now, wanna hear about her program to get kids to put good food in their mouths?

Kids who are picky eaters often have problems, both physical and behavioural. And food, more often than not, can solve a good proportion of the problems.

Of course, when I say 'picky eaters' I'm not talking about the sort of kids who eat most things but maybe won't go near liver. You're on your own, super-parents.

I'm talking about kids who eat, at most, 10 food items, the majority of which are 'white'. I'm talking about the kids who scream when you even put a carrot on their plate. I'm talking about the kids who would rather stick nails in their eyes than swallow zucchini.

In other words, three out of four of my kids.

Dorfman recommends what she calls the E.A.T program. 

E means Eliminate. You get rid of any foods which you suspect or which appear to be irritants to your child. This usually includes the child's absolute favourite foods which you swear they would not be able to live without. (Funnily enough, kids can become addicted to the very food that they have intolerances to, and the culprits are usually dairy and gluten.) It also includes any snack foods that you have in the cupboard that provide alternatives to the healthy things you want to give them. 

A is for Add. You explain to your child that for the next two weeks, he or she will *add* one new food. You can make the decision as to which food between you, or give the child some options.

T is for try. All you're asking for is the child to take one bite of the new food every night for two weeks. 

It sounds simple enough. And it follows one of her other principles: with picky eaters, small, calm, consistent steps are what will work.

Dorfman says: "The basis of this program is that kids need time to get used to foods that are unfamiliar or otherwise distasteful. Food preferences develop through a process of acclimation. People get used to what they have been exposed to and tend to prefer the known."

What if your child gets upset?  This is where it's all about the parents. Dorfman says: "Resisting the urge to respond immediately to a child's initial dislike of a food takes a lot of patience on the part of parents and caregivers. And although the E.A.T program works, it does require you to stay cool, calm and collected and to persevere. Don't stop after one success or failure. Keep going!"

Dorfman doesn't advocate bribery, but she does recommend tying a pleasant consequence to the trying of the food. Steer away from "If you dont eat that, then you can't do this" which is basically threatening and go instead for, "When you've eaten that, then you'll be able to do this." The reaction in the child is very different.

So far, one month in to Our Year of Food, I've been following these principles.  

Eliminate: Last year I found out what the irritants were for each of the children and adjusted all our diets so that we are now free of all preservatives and every single one of their intolerances. It wasn't easy. (I am an experienced label reader now.) It also meant I *had* to go and buy a Thermomix - the most superduper kiitchen machine ever.

This year I've gone even further. I've largely eliminated refined sugar from our diet and now use sweeteners like dates, rapadura sugar and natvia (stevia and erthyritol). I've also gotten rid of the Salada crackers that my second son used to live on and prefer over every other food item. I just stopped buying them over the holidays and now they just aren't there! He has fewer options for snacking.

One of my children is gluten free but I'm about to embark on getting rid of gluten for everyone for a month and see what happens. Even though technically the Salada-loving kid isn't intolerant of wheat, he's still addicted and I'm keen to see what happens if he doesn't have it. I'll be filling his carb cravings with rice cakes, rice and gluten free pasta as well as almond-meal based cookies and sweets.

Add: The big win has been getting them to drink vegetable juice. It's now a daily event and it's part of 'what we do'. I had to explain a lot about nutrition to get them to swig it down but they were actually pretty interested in the end. We've had a few other little wins too. My two non-vegie eating boys now will eat peas, cucumber, capsicum and raw carrots on a nightly basis. Yes, there are still some fights about it, but with an extra 10 minutes of computer time on offer for everyone who finishes everything that's on the plate, I don't think there's been a night when the computer didn't win in the end.

Try: Yes, it's painful, and yes, tonight I sat with son number two for a full 30 minutes while he tried everything in his power to get out of putting the teensiest piece of tomato in his mouth, but when I give them enough notice ("for the next two weeks, we'll all be eating a tiny teaspoon of X every night") they can generally get it down.

Breaking it down into even smaller steps can be helpful too, as can coaching them through it all. Sometimes all they can see is a huge plate of yuckiness but if you help them see what's really there, they are able to process it all a bit better next time.

Tonight son number 2 was really struggling with finishing his vegetable curry. I divided it up on the plate into a pile of chick peas, some cooked carrot, cooked zucchini and a pile of rice covered in sauce.

"Which one of these is least scary?" I asked. "How about we do that first?" He promptly picked the chickpeas (I know, unusual child, right?) and got them down in three mouthfuls. Next easiest was the carrots. I had to encourage him by reminding him that he'd eaten cooked carrots before and didn't die. He finally ate them, with a mouthful of water to wash it down with. FInally we compromised for the remaining bits. He ate half of each, all put into one spoonful and I ate the other half. 

This fortnight, we're all eating tomato and Bright Eyes is also doing a teaspoonful of rice. Maybe in a few months we'll be able to introduce meat and chicken.... but small steps first!

If your children are picky eaters, I strongly recommend you get and read Dorfman's book. It's a winner.

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