If you've ever had to scrap an entire meal because your young son or daughter suddenly hates a food that was a mealtime favorite just last week, you're not alone. It can be frustrating when your kids keep changing their minds about their preferred foods and which ones they scrape to the edge of their plates, but don’t worry -- it's perfectly normal.
"One day they like pasta, and then the next they don't," says two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Mia Hamm, discussing her twin daughters' dietary habits. "And then sometimes one of them wants to eat the same thing for lunch every day. I think that's fine, as long as it's something healthy."
So, is there something that can give parents peace of mind as they scramble to concoct a palatable meal to their little ones? Fortunately, yes -- research shows that there are reasons children's tastes and appetites can change so quickly. Since children grow in "spurts," they may feel hungrier and eat a lot one week, and seem apathetic towards mealtime and eat very little the next. Different types of activity and changing interests can also factor into shifting taste preferences.
According to Registered Nutritionist Tracy Owens, of Triangle Nutrition Therapies, appetite changes are normal for children. Owens is also a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina in-network provider.
Owens touched on how parents are not alone in trying to manage their children's eating habits, saying, "Every parent desires to provide healthy nutritious food for their children. However, sometimes children may not eat as much as we think they need, sending parents into a frenzy. Children may in fact eat less at certain times because they do have changes in appetite as they go in and out of growth spurts."
One way that Hamm follows the advice of nutritionists, while keeping in mind changing tastes, is by offering a wide selection of meal and snack items while also limiting the amount of processed foods that her kids eat.
For example, she makes their turkey sandwiches on whole grain bread, instead of white bread, and she uses fresh turkey that is low in sodium and preservatives. Hamm adds variety by putting different fresh fruits and vegetables in lunches and snacks.
"There are also many alternatives for chips," Hamm pointed out. "You can choose veggie chips, that aren't fried, over typical potato chips."
Making sure your kids eat nutritious meals can be a struggle. So, show some patience, since tastes change, and don't be shy in introducing a wide variety of healthy alternatives in order to build the foundation of a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
This story was written for our sponsor, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.