One of the biggest things I want to emphasize is never force kids to eat something they do not like.
In Ayurveda, if anyone eats anything that they do not enjoy, then it will not digest well. This will result in gas, acid reflux, indigestion, gurgling, etc and possibly turning into ama (sludge/toxins) in the body. When my son Ruvir was starting solids, I remember this being so hard to follow. I would put in all this time and effort into freshly pureeing his food. Most of the days, he would push the spoon away over and over again. When children are older, there will be days when there is something they want to eat over what is made. But as a general rule of thumb, if your child is nauseas or truly not into eating that particular food, then best to let them pass on it. Many vegetarians, like myself, when we smell tuna or certain types of fish, we lose our appetite completely and get nauseous. If I were to eat fish, I am positive it is not going to digest properly or at all.
We can avoid forcing children to eat foods against their will but how do we get them to happily eat it on their own?
Laid Back Approach
I want to share a little about how kids are fed in India, where inherently people follow Ayurvedic principles. In India, kids for the most part, are not picky eaters. From a young age different textures, spices, colors, smells, and herbs are used. When mothers cook for their toddlers, they make it a point to try new things. Overall speaking, Indian cuisine has tremendous different textures, flavors, spices. At some point along the journey of trying different foods, toddlers find their match. It could be a soft gruel, different types of parathas, curries, idlis, chutneys or even something else.
I had never really thought about how mothers do it differently in India. Somehow by default I started experimenting with all sorts of Indian and fusion recipes. I introduced Ruvir to as many different types of foods possible, some were successful and others not so much. There were days and periods were teething pain took over and all food was rejected. That was fine too, with the help of formula and milk. I was amazed at how much he loved eating foods with turmeric, garam masala and herbs like basil and mint. As my Mom put it, how could I blame Ruvir for not eating well when I was not making foods on par with his taste buds?
I realized in the past few months something really interesting. At home, Ruvir loves to eat his Indian food or anything that has flavor and taste. In school (he is in a toddler program) he will only eat very “American” food. His favorites are pieces of peanut butter and jelly on sprouted grain bread or mac and cheese with veggies. As his teacher put it, school is a social time. Their taste buds for school meals are different than home. Maybe, he just does not want anything smelly in school and feel embarassed. He is 1 years old! I used to be that way. Back in the 90s, you would be made fun of in school if you brought in something “different”. Like mother, like son.
Another aspect that I find so fascinating that Ayurveda mentions is how our DNA plays a huge role. Following what our ancestors ate is optimal for our digestion. For example, I am 100% of Indian origin and my ancestors followed a vegetarian diet. This was heavily spiced and included lots of vegetables, fruits, grains, lentils and rice. Think about what your ancestors ate and think about your other halve’s ancestors (ask them), since your child is half and half. What surprised me the most is Ruvir’s love for Indian food. Prior to him, I would sometimes make it, but since he started eating we now cook it more than ever. Of course, with Ayurvedic principles following seasonal spices and practices.
Too many options
One of the ways our modern diet has failed many of us, is the ability to go eat whatever type of cuisine we want. I remember when I was living in New York City, long before Ayurveda revived me, I would eat out at different restaurants and types of food almost every night. Amazing how awareness can change so much. With Ruvir’s tastebuds we cook at home 95% of the week. My husband and I rarely crave for take out and when we do order in, we can feel the difference. The next day it feels like the food is just sitting in our gut.
Back to picky eaters. One of my favorite ways to introduce new foods to Ruvir is through using foods he loves. I use his comfort foods and disguise them with other foods to introduce new tastes.
If your child likes potatoes and only potatoes, then boil a cup of cubed potatoes and add in any combination of ingredients that you would like to introduce (say cubed boiled carrots and chicken). Then use a binding agent like chickpea flour, semolina flour, or cooked lentils of any variety. Bind everything together, add spices, herbs if you wish to and mix it well so that it is thick, it should not be liquid or runny. In a pan, add a few drops of ghee and drop in a small burger sized amount of the mix on low heat. Sauté it and then flip it with a few more drops of ghee. Initially, I would suggest to add in more of your child’s favorite ingredients that are visible enough so they focus on that. I find making these variations of burgers are great because they are easy to cut up and toddlers can easily grab these in their hands.
The point of making these is to slowly introduce their taste buds to different ingredients. It will take some trial and error, but even if they scavenger hunt for their potato pieces some of the other herbs or flavors will definitely be on those potato pieces. Get creative, add hemp hearts, sesame seeds, chia seeds, or whatever you have on hand that you think might work. If your child does not like ghee, then use oil or butter.
Children are clever, but as moms I think we can definitely outsmart them by camouflaging new ingredients into their foods. What I have noticed is, western cuisine does not have extensive amounts of textures, and maybe your child is just not happy with the texture of food you are serving.
For example, my son loves grilled cheese, sprouted grain bread with grass fed cheddar grilled in butter on both sides. Of course, I cannot give this to him every day, but now that I now that he likes grilled cheese, I dice it up into cubes and I will dip all of them in a shallow bowl of fresh soup. Last week, I made roasted acorn squash soup with fresh ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and turmeric powder. It would be wishful thinking to believe Ruvir would open his mouth for even a spoon of it. So, I dipped his grilled cheese bites in there until they were entirely coated, a bit soaked, and then I gave him his dinner. On the first bite he had a bit of a questionable look on his face, but as he chewed along I am certain he was tasting the cheese and bread and he was a happy camper. That was my first try with acorn squash but my hope is that one day he will open his mouth or better yet drink spoonfuls of it himself.
Change of Environment
When Ruvir was cutting three teeth, all at once, I was left hopeless. It was difficult, and I knew his tastebuds had not changed overnight. It was just the horrendous pain. What did work was taking him out to the playground and downtown, distracting him enough that he would nibble on the cheese or fruit. Last week while strolling around, I was so hungry that I took us to a lunch place where they serve grain bowls and farm to table “fast food”. I ordered a veggie burger and baked sweet potato fries. After I put Ruvir in the high chair he was trying to grab the food! I gave him a little bit of everything and he was enjoying being out so much with the change in environment that he actually wanted to eat!
The Earlier the Better
I was so inspired to blog about picky eaters this morning as one of my friends called me mentioning that a friend of hers, has a 11 year old that just will not eat anything except chicken nuggets and french fries. Without judging, I was thinking how this could have happened for all these years? The mom was bribing her daughter with toys, just to try a bite of new food. It is very tough, all of us want our kids to eat, have their bellies full and be happy but sometimes it is not so straight forward. I was thinking if I was in that mom’s shoes, what would I do?
Compliment with Sauces
If your child is only eating chicken nuggets like this 11 year old then it is time to get very creative. I suggest you make lots of chutneys and aiolis, and dip them all around the chicken nuggets. Being open minded to try new foods will not happen overnight. By offering different sauces, she can still have her chicken nuggets and a sauce or chutney will not feel like a threat. For example, maybe it is a chutney made out of kale and mint or chipotle seasoning and mayo. The options are endless on what can be made.
The point is to turn it into a harmless sauce, that she would see as a type of compliment to her chicken nuggets rather than threat. As most takeout places offer sauces with chicken nuggets anyway, she will not feel that mom is forcing something on her. Out of all the different chutneys, aiolis, and sauces, something will click. When it does, it will be the light at the end of the tunnel. The sauce that she started enjoying with her nuggets can now be used in other type of foods. You can spread the sauce inside of a sandwich, over grilled veggies, meat, grain dishes, etc.
Another method is pancakes. Not the sweet morning maple syrup slathered pancakes but savory pancakes or crepes. These are made out of of chickpea flour, oat flour or other grains and beans. Add chopped vegetables or meat as toppings. Chickpea flour pancakes are simply chickpea flour some water and a little bit of salt. You can add turmeric, spices, herbs if you choose to. Over low heat and a few drops of ghee or oil of your choice, thinly spread the batter and then add the toppings. When the sides get brown and crispy, with a spatula lift it and flip it over. If you have a hard time flipping it over, add a few more drops of ghee/ oil on the sides and let it cook a little longer before flipping. Or, you can even blend the toppings into the chickpea flour so that it is very discreet.
Please be patient moms, I know you will find the method that works best for your kid and you will see the holy grail…one day!