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Back to School: Packing a lunch for a picky eater shouldn't be a power struggle

Dietician Caitlin Kaczowka said it might be helpful for parents of picky eaters to involve their kids in the process of making lunches, and generally, parents should not stress about a child's picky eating; strong food preferences are a normal part of growing up.

Madison Waddell’s daughter Symphony, 7, won’t eat bacon, or other meats, or dairy.

“As soon as she found out that bacon was an animal that was it, no more bacon,” said Waddell.

Symphony is what Waddell describes as a natural vegetarian and packing school lunches that she will eat is like “hell every day.” Waddell has struggled for years fighting with her daughter over food and she is not alone.

Caitlin Kaczowka, a dietician with Shoppers Drug Mart, said picky eating is quite a common struggle for families and families often come to her to ensure their child is getting a balanced diet.

“It's definitely something most kids go through and even though it feels very serious, very often it's not serious,” Kaczowka said.

Waddell said Symphony had issues with meat right from the start and would have a full-blown meltdown if Waddell tried to force her to eat meat.

Most kids, however, have issues with vegetables.

“The number one thing I see is, of course, is the veggies. Those are always tough,” said Kaczowka.

Kaczowka said some of the main reasons kids have issues with foods are because of sensory issues, strong tastes, and smells.

“Kids actually taste bitter flavours better than most adults … That's just part of being a child, right? It could be strong taste [or] smells, they're not quite sure how to process,” she said.

Waddell said she thinks it is more of a texture thing for Symphony. Texture is something she struggles with herself.

“I'm very sensitive to texture, like I can't do Jell-O because of the texture. It'll make me gag. And [for] Symphony, certain things like that with her is very common,” said Waddell.

Another reason a child might be picky about their foods is because of general power struggles, said Kaczowka.

Kids don’t have a lot of say about their day-to-day activities and strong food preferences might be a way for them to control their bodily autonomy.

When it comes to school lunches Kaczowka said the only thing parents can do is pack a balanced lunch.

The rest is up to the child.

Angela O’Neill, owner of SoGood Meals, has been in the business of meal prepping since 2017.

O’Neill has experience with picky eaters, including her own daughter. O’Neill said for most of the kids she deals with, vegetables are the issue.

She said the best thing a parent can do is sit down with their kids and figure out what they like and don’t like.

Kaczowka agrees. She said for parents struggling with picky eating it often helps to involve the child in the process, as eating is a learning experience.

“It’s part of the learning experience … including them in these experiences, bringing them grocery shopping … having them involved in prep, even just as simple as giving them some choices when it comes to packing the fruit, ‘Do you want an apple, orange, banana?’” explained Kaczowka.

O’Neill said she likes to include a special treat in a child’s lunch and one of the most popular items she packed in school lunches was mini muffins.

“If you have a lot of healthy things, sometimes you might just want to add a few candies, just something small. So, they have a treat and it's exciting,” said O’Neill.

Kaczowka said kids don’t need to eat a perfectly balanced meal at every meal, as things will generally balance out, but if a child has either stopped gaining weight or is losing weight or there are only five acceptable foods, it is time to reach out to a doctor.

“If ... you're down to five acceptable foods … there might be something else going on,” she said

Kaczowka said the main bit of hope she can offer parents is they are not alone.

“It almost feels like it gets worse before it gets better. And that's just part of the learning process for children,” she said.

Sometimes kids will be doing what parents consider to be great.

“[Kids will be] trying lots of things and exploring foods and then all of a sudden it feels like they’ve hit a brick wall,” she said.

Kaczowka said it is important for parents to shift their mindset. Forcing kids will likely not work, as no one likes to be told what to do.

“It might seem like the child's just going to be eating buttered noodles every night. But over time they will learn and they'll kind of learn on their own … it's a slow process,” she said.

About the Author: Jessica Nelson

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