by Mary Jessica Hammes
November 19, 2011
Elizabeth Pantley’s new book, The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution, is the most commonsense guide to picky eating I’ve ever read. And I don’t mean that negatively. When a frustrated parent is staring down a child who is refusing to eat, commonsense can be the first thing to go out the window.
Pantley is known for her No-Cry books on sleeping, napping, separation anxiety, potty training, and discipline. The No-Cry philosophy is all about “avoiding tears, stress, and anger and making positive changes in the most productive ways,” she writes in her latest book.
Her gentle and reassuring tone do much to accomplish this.
“While your current struggles with your child’s picky eating are real, important, and frustrating, they will pass in time,” she writes.
Even so, it’s important to provide good nutrition to support both these early years of rapid growth, and in the long-term by establishing healthy eating choices that will influence the rest of their lives.
Pantley’s book helps identify the picky eater and whether he or she is actually unhealthy, reminding you that picky eating is rarely dangerous. Perhaps most importantly, she reminds that you are a loving and normal parent, even if your child’s picky eating has worried you, angered you, or made you feel guilty.
When people talk about picky eating, they so often focus on the control issues—your child is refusing certain foods just so she can control some small part of his or her overwhelming world. One of the book’s strengths is that Pantley goes well beyond that, exploring all of the different reasons why kids are picky.
Why are some kids so picky, or seemingly predisposed to reach for the sweet stuff? Pantley explains:
But parents do know and should care, and it’s important to persevere and offer healthy foods even during periods of picky eating. “Research shows that food preferences are established early in life,” she writes, so you don’t want to get into the habit of caving in, giving the unhealthy food your child is demanding. That creates a “vicious cycle,” writes Pantley.
“By the time your child outgrows these dietary limitations, his food habits are set in place and harder to change,” she adds.
To make it easy on you, Pantley arms you with food facts. She talks about the negative effects of sugar, sodium, fats, and chemicals (including hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides found in food), and the positive effects of eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and dining as a family.
Most importantly, she says, children learn eating habits primarily from their parents. Introducing healthy foods into your child’s diet is the perfect time to examine your own eating habits and lead by example.
But what if you don’t know where to start? Not to worry. Pantley gives you a plan.
She tells you how to prepare both your attitude and your kitchen. She gives you correct portion and serving sizes. And she offers a list of rules, giving you permission to break a few of them when appropriate.
The “Tips, Tricks, and Tactics” chapter is a goldmine: a host of ways to serve your picky eater his favorites, while covertly changing the recipe to make it healthier. There’s even a guide on how to change the recipe gradually over time, for those perceptive eaters who might notice the difference.
There are also tips on making mealtime “fun.” No doubt you’ve already seen a sandwich shaped by a funky cookie-cutter, some cloying nickname given to an otherwise still-uninspired dish, or a pile of vegetables sculpted into something resembling a circus clown. She doesn’t discount those ideas, as they well might work, but she also discusses ways to involve the children themselves in food preparation and presentation.
Another helpful guide offers healthier snacks based on your child’s less healthy favorites. (For instance, if French fries are a favorite, try baked sweet potato or butternut squash fries.) She has also come up with a helpful mix-and-match list of both dips and food for dipping.
The last part of the book is reserved for recipes including stews, casseroles, muffins, and other dishes that look, for the most part, quite appealing to any-aged eater (though vegetarians and vegans will want to look elsewhere for more choices). Only a few of the recipes sneak in healthy food in the guise of sweets; most of the time, there’s no deception, only food that is prepared and meant to look like itself. Pink potatoes are just that, simply tinted with a mix of white and sweet potatoes. There are 21 recipes in all—not quite enough to make this feel like a cookbook, but enough to be a good jumping-off point or inspiration to find other healthy, kid-friendly cookbooks.
Honestly, the book would still be valuable without the recipes. Pantley’s no-shame attitude is a gift to desperate parents dreading mealtimes. In an ideal world, meals and snacks are meant to be bonding times, opportunities to regroup and relax with loved ones. “The rituals that surround food and eating should be pleasant,” she writes. This book is a beacon to anyone who has lost sight of that.
Mary Jessica Hammes is an Athens, Georgia-based writer, trapeze instructor, knitter, gardener, comic book enthusiast, and hula hooper. She is mom to Tommy.
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