Picky eaters come in all ages, ranging from toddlers who are just being introduced to different foods, tastes, smells and textures, to the elderly who have lost some of their sense of taste and smell. It is a great challenge and sometimes even frustrating to nourish these individuals. However, it is important to exercise patience, persistence and some amount of creativity to accomplish this feat.
The main purpose of eating is to provide our bodies with nutrients in their appropriate amounts to ensure the body functions well and remains healthy. With picky eaters this is a challenge, and they are usually at risk for some kind of malnutrition; whether it is eating too little and becoming underweight, or binge eating on unhealthy foods and possibly becoming overweight, or developing nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency anemia.
When feeding picky eaters, it is important to remember to make meals as balanced as possible with a meal plan in mind. This means including foods from as many of the Caribbean’s six food groups; namely Staples, Foods from Animals, Legumes, Vegetables, Fruits and Fats & Oils. Each food group provides one or more of the six nutrients namely carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water.
Since picky eaters have small attention spans and possibly also small stomachs, it is important to make each item that enters their mouth count. This means giving only nutritious and/or nutrient dense foods, instead of commercial snacks and other empty calories. Therefore instead of potato chips, give carrot and other vegetable sticks with a cheese dip, or a pumpkin raisin mini-muffin.
A common nutrient dense food is a very thick consistency (not runny) porridge made with full cream milk, and a teaspoon of oil or butter and sugar. For beverages consider blending high sugary fruits such as mangoes and bananas with vegetables like carrots, and smoothing with some full cream milk or yogurt.
It is also important to consider the causes of picky eating. In the case of the elderly with loss of taste and smell, once there are no gastrointestinal complications such as ulcers, you may try to add more flavor and spice to the meals to make them more palatable.
For some elderly and babies, they have few to no teeth, and can only consume soft/pureed foods and beverages in small amounts. The thick consistency porridge and smoothies are good options here, but also consider making wholesome soups, then blending into a puree, as well as purees such as blended yams, beans, milk and pumpkin, or other soft foods such as shepherd’s pies, and callaloo and ackee quiches.
Finally, always remember to make meals colourful, and appealing to the eye, whether they are purees for babies and the elderly, or they are just nutritious meals for picky teenagers. For instance in a teenager’s lunch give a variety of vegetable cuts (such as julienne) in the salad. You may even add some apple slices, raisins and orange segments to jazz up a regular vegetable salad. Also try using vegetables to add colour to staple foods like callaloo, pumpkin, spinach rice and mixed vegetable rice pilaf.
A qualified nutritionist or dietitian can provide you with more detailed information about proper nourishment for your picky eater.
Are you or do you have a picky eater? Share your stories in the comments below or tweet the author at @ReneeAmoy.