Feeding Friday – Adding Color Without Sneaking It

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Cindy Morrison, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC

In my line of work, I frequently meet children who have a particular food preference.  It’s referred to as the “Beige” or “Tan” Diet.  When I speak with the parents whose children are struggling with feeding, I always start by asking them, “what foods will your child eat easily?”  After having this discussion hundreds of times, I am never shocked when I hear the following preferred food items spoken aloud:  bread, french fries, chicken nuggets, crackers, cookies, cereal and pasta.

Brown, tan, SALTY, SWEET.

While some of those foods aren’t necessarily bad to eat in moderation, it is important to remember that they are foods filled with refined starches, sugars and fat.  More importantly, this diet is dangerous because it is not providing all the essential nutrients required for children as they grow.  The best way to provide the human body with all of the nutrients it needs is to eat a diverse diet that includes a full spectrum of color.

Fruits and vegetables provide many of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. These foods are naturally low in calories and full of fiber.  But you know this already, right? Raise your hand if you are now thinking: “Chew Chew Mama, I know all of this, but still have a child looking at a bowl of broccoli, spinach or squash with a frown and a refusal? What now?”

Remember those last two words that bolded above?  Salty and sweet.  As children are transitioning to new colorful foods, I often tell parents to make sure the foods are full of flavor.  If you know your child LOVES salty chicken nuggets and french fries than you need to be adding some salt to those vegetables too.  Add the salt to familiarize the flavor to what they like until they have gotten comfortable. Once the new food item has been added into their diet then gradually begin to fade the flavor enhancement.

What about the child with the sweet tooth?  Add sugar?  Hold onto your hats…maybe a little. Remember that the end goal is getting the nutrients to take the place of the refined sugar snacks, so if sprinkling a tiny bit of sweetness gets broccoli and carrots added into a child’s repertoire – it’s a win.  Do I advocate loads of sugar.  Definitely not.  In fact, my preference and recommendation is always to try to sweeten foods with fruit purees. Broccoli drizzled with pureed cherries may sound gross to you, but your child will enjoy pureeing the cherries with you and then use that puree to dip, drizzle and gobble everything up. So remember to match the new foods that you are offering to your child’s flavor preference when you find yourself struggling.  Enhance flavor once or twice then fade it out.  The ULTIMATE goal is eating and enjoying a variety of whole foods.

Now that i’ve given you a new trick to try I am going to hope that you never need to use it.  If you’ve been following the Feeding Friday series you know the best ways to get your child to eat voluntarily is by inviting them into the kitchen, getting them to help with the process of eating, providing them with structure, giving them independence and making sure they aren’t coming to the table with full bellies.  It is also extremely important to offer new foods during short snack times instead of longer mealtimes to provide a gentler and more gradual introduction.

Now for the Color Challenge!

Make it a goal to eat 5 different colors this week (then keep going!).  Encourage your children to help you pick out the food items and let them take turns with you to decide which colors the family will eat each day.  It’s exciting for children when the tables turn and they get to tell you what to eat.  Just be sure they understand that being the “color leader” for the day means that they have to make great choices and do great eating otherwise mom and dad get to be back in charge!

Happy, healthy eating!

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