[This is the latest in an occasional series by Beth Melo, a Southborough mom who loves to read to her kids. This post was originally published on the Southborough Library website, and has been reposted here with permission. For more of Beth’s book recommendations, click here.]
Resolving to Have a Healthy Family
I’m always struggling to make nutritious dinners that don’t end up in tantrums. (By tantrums, I mean the ones I throw when my son refuses to eat his dinner.) This year I’m resolving to somehow get my son to eat his meat and vegetables without either of us screaming or crying, at least most of the time.
I managed to get through this stage with my daughter. I know that my son is more stubborn, but this is why it’s a resolution – I need to work seriously on changing his mind-set. So I’m arming myself with books to help along the way.
While part of the food struggles are obviously taste and texture, part is also perception. I know this is going to be a long struggle, not a quick fix. Occasionally, books can be a big help in setting a positive attitude before the meal hits the table.
Picky/Stubborn Eater stories – I have a persistent hope that reading about picky eaters who discover yummy foods will have an influence:
- I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato by Lauren Child introduces popular characters Charlie and Lola. Older brother Charlie convinces Lola to try different foods by convincing her they are exciting and exotic new things (like carrots that are orange twiglets from Jupiter). It’s the humor that once convinced both my children that it would be fun to eat fish sticks for dinner (ocean nibbles, ever popular with mermaids).
- Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban is one of my favorites. When Frances gets exactly what she wants – her favorite food all of the time – she learns to appreciate the foods everyone else is eating around her. Watching the stubborn girl become less and less enthused by jam is entertaining. “I know how a jam jar feels , Full… of…Jam!” One thing I also like about this book is that it doesn’t focus on candy or other desserts as her preferred food. (If I read a book to my son where the child becomes sick of candy and decides to eat healthy food, all it makes my son think is “I want candy!”)
- Picky Peggy by Jennifer Dussling shows a child figuring out on her own that healthy food is important. When she is given a baby duck to care for and accidentally mistreats it by only feeding it the breadcrumbs the duck prefers, she sees the effect that eating unhealthy has on the duck. The duck’s siblings (raised by the neighbor) are healthy and happy, while hers becomes sickly and sad. When she fixes the problem for the duck, she resolves to eat better herself.
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss is the classic how-do-you-know-if-you-haven’t-tried-it? book.
The Dreaded Vegetables – These books are ones I’m using to try to convince my son that vegetables can be yummy, or get him to choose one to try. There are a ton on this subject, but most aren’t convincing. These are the ones we liked best:
- Rah, rah, radishes! : a vegetable chant by April Pulley Sayre – the pictures in this one are bright, colorful and enticing
- Eating the alphabet : fruits and vegetables from A to Zby Lois Ehlert. The drawings are less enticing, but the list is far more extensive. The glossary in back was great. Referring to the avocado’s nickname alligator pear made him want to try it. (“Mikey likes it!”)
- Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli by Barbara Jean Hicks shows the monsters are actually children and the trees they prefer to eat are broccoli. Since monsters are a hit with him, so is this book. I’m not sure how much it helps, but he believes he’ll eat broccoli even if it’s only an occasional tree.
- Green Beans, Potatoes and Even Tomatoes by Brian P. Cleary explains how the different vegetables are important for your body. I think it helps to explain that not all vegetables are alike – so no, you can’t just eat carrots every day.
Expanding the palate – I can only get so far by focusing on getting him to eat a vegetable. And of course I need him to eat some meat. About the only kids books I can find about eating chicken are ones where the chickens outwit an evil fox. Not exactly what I’m looking for.
If I can get him to try a new “exciting” dish that combines healthy ingredients, I hope to make progress. Focusing on another culture can persuade the kids to try something new. Here are some books that have actually worked a little and others I’m working with now:
- Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park – This book actually got him excited about trying the Korean dish otherwise known as bibimbap. So, we made a family outing to a Korean restaurant to try it. Once it was in front of him, the enthusiasm waned considerably. But he ate a little and his sister loved it.
- Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin prompted a taco party and helped get him to eat ¼ of a taco. Yes, some of that was the promised dessert. Still progress since bribes don’t work with him unless he is willing to try it.
- Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan
- How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman
- The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah
- Yoko by Rosemary Wells
This last strategy really does seem to work the best – so if anyone has other books to recommend abut or including foods of other countries or regions, please share by posting a comment. I’m always looking for new ones like these to try.
If you have a picky eater, I hope some of my suggestions help. As always, if you have any questions for me, feel free to e-mail email@example.com.