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My Interview with Chef Gigi Gaggero Author of Food Fight: For Parents of Picky Eaters


Are you the parent of a picky eater?  I know your frustrations.  My son was the pickiest of picky eaters and it was so frustration at times for me to get him to eat healthy.  

Chef Gigi Gaggero has written a wonderful book titled Food Fight: For Parents of Picky Eaters.  This book address concerns and problems that parents face when getting their children to eat healthy.  Her simple solutions and recipes are designed to make meal time more pleasurable for both you and your child.   I highly recommend this book.

I had the honor of interviewing Chef Gigi.  Read my interview below.


Interview: Chatty Patty’s Place



1.  What would you like to say to parents/guardians who feel like they are failing when they are trying to get their children to eat?

Patty: “I personally found that patience was a huge part of the food game.  It had to be, for me.  I found that if I got upset or angry, it made things worse.”

Gigi : Patty, I can't speak enough about the tension picky eating creates between  parent to parent, parent to child, and child to sibling relationships.Engaging in unreasonable dialogue with a picky eater just adds to the already stressful period-of-day that we inherently earn as a parent; I am talking about those hours between five and eight in the evening. Not to mention, creating unnecessary tension is something parents should always avoid.Ultimately, as you might have guessed,  picky eating is really about power and control. In my book, Food Fight, for Parents of Picky Eaters, I share a several examples how parents can use positive, action plans that allow the child to exercise their own power and control.

First, I’d like parents to take a deep breath, and give themselves a break. Concentrate on removing just one thing out of their families schedule to release a little bit of task management stress out of their daily role.  Wherever they can afford to cut back on scheduling they should. Maybe it’s cutting an additional activity  and re- assigning that time on just being home with their family. No deadlines or expectations on this one day. Slow parenting style, which I am a huge fan of. This will help alleviate some of the stress that just naturally builds being a parent; which can really over work our patience meters. Once we are tense and tired, and the children are tense and tired, it's hard to stay positive.

At the end of the day, we all have the same long term goal. We all want our children to grow up safe, as emotionally healthy adults who contribute positively to society. This can all begin at the mealtime table. How scary is that? Parents inherently have so much power. Many of us are so busy we forget to recognize how natural the need-to-imitate can be for our children. We need to also give ourselves a break, after all, everything we learn about parenting comes to us by living each developmental stage our child grows. Clearly, as parents we grow alongside our children. Funny how we get directions for everything else in life, except parenting.

2. How did you overcome anger or frustration with the food fight struggle?

Patty : “ I personally feel like your book is going to address a lot of the food issues facing many parents.  While every child is different, a lot of the behavioral traits they display are similar.”
                                                           
Gigi :Thank you Patty. I do try to hit a wide variety of examples in my book including recipes because not every family is the same. However, you are correct. Each child might be different, but they inherently display many of the same traits when it comes to picky eating. I think it is amazing to watch a child develop communication and negotiation skill for their own survival. It makes me giggle. I love to see a child exert power. We want out kids to grow to be leaders and stand up for themselves. This is one of the first places they will. We want our children to express these types of leadership skills, now it is up to us on how to redirect it. Think about it, just like all of us adults, children want to feel that they have some control and power over their lives. Often they do the reverse of what is asked of them just to exercise power. One way a child exerts his power and control is through food. This usually works. It’s unreasonable to force a child to eat; we can not force chew and swallow.

Let the anger and frustration go by knowing this is a positive developmental stage within your child's growth pattern, don’t take it personally. At the end of the day, we still need to get the calories in. My book discusses several techniques on how to feed without engaging in anger or frustration. Picky eaters or not, parents should always lead with positive actions and examples with anything, and especially true surrounding food choices. These can create long term challenges into adulthood surrounding relationships with food. If we stress less, our children will too, and will enable us to communicate effectively.

           
3. For a parent who feels that no two children are alike, and may be hesitant to read this book thinking that, what would you say to them?

Patty : “Over time, as my child matured, and I was able to reason with him, I began to find it easier, at a slow pace, to introduce new foods to him.  I feel like I got smarter.  I began to make the same foods, but in different ways until I found a way he liked.  I also began to put rules into play and stuck to them.  My son couldn't leave the table unless he took at least one bite of something he didn't like.  By doing that, I found him beginning to actually accept and like many new foods.”


Gigi : For a parent who feels that no two children are alike, and may be hesitant to read my book, I would you say they are absolutely correct. No two children are alike, and thank goodness for that. We’ve all done it—pleaded with our toddler to try just one bite of a sandwich or conveyed that if he tries the soup he can have a treat or go on an outing. The truth is, we are beat by the stubborn refusals and most parents just give in. In today's busy lifestyles, who has an additional thirty minutes to an hour into the evening to sit at the table until your child has eaten a stalk of Broccoli. The cost vs. the benefit outweighs. With all the bribing, manipulating, and even threatening consequences from no dessert to time-outs, most families are still left feeling powerless against our pint-size, food-refusing child’s strong will. Welcome to the seemingly never-ending food fight.

I would also like to add, with respect to picky eating, It's really not so much about the child, as much as it is about our parenting. Most children are willing to sit at the table for an additional thirty minutes or more while the parents wait for them to eat. Now they are just back in control and have your full attention. I’d want that too. Realistically, if you pay close attention, you can see it has more to do with power and control than being a picky eater. The old oppositional behavior trick will usually be your first clue, comparable to potty training or bedtime troubles.

Peer pressure can be another factor. Children will follow the displays of their peers. If you have more than one child at the table, you will need to up your food fight strategy and stick to it.

 I also go after picky eating from a food professionals perspective. As humans, we often we blur taste with smell. Very little of what we taste is actually experienced on our taste buds. The experience of flavor is a combination of smell, sight, touch and texture. Keep in mind that all those senses contribute to children accepting food. Flavor is a combination of smell and taste, with smell often being the more important factor, most kids will choose foods by smell first.

In chapter nine, I discuss the Science behind flavor. A technique chefs have been using for years. Understanding flavor is another tool to add to a parents food fight arsenal. For instance, some children will not accept the flavor of nutrient-dense green vegetables, but when enhanced with umami, the landscape of flavor changes; and for the better.

Using the science behind flavor layered with techniques found in this book will certainly enhance a parents toolbox. One of the most important things to remember when engaging in a food fight pattern is to make sure the food tastes good. I’d encourage parents there is more to Food Fight the book, than just getting the kids to  eat. Plus, it it loaded with over 60 recipes the whole family will enjoy. Not just the picky eater. In chapter ten I have a ten step process that parents can use to introduce foods your child would never eat. It takes some time, but a change can happen.
                                               
4. Do you think parents should draw the line on when to stop trying to introduce a certain food that their child continues to reject, or do you feel that over time they can learn to love something?

Patty: “I was fortunate that my son loved vegetables as he got into grade school.  I don't think there was a vegetable he wouldn't eat.  Unfortunately, this is a huge struggle for many parents.  Many children won't eat their veggies, whether it be out of fear, or perhaps they don't like the texture or smell.  For whichever reason, it can be frustrating to many parents.”


Gigi :

Patty, I would really be frustrated if someone keeps pressuring me to eat something I truly dislike. We’ve all done it—pleaded with our toddler to try just one bite of a sandwich or conveyed that if he tries the soup he can have a treat or go on an outing. We are all guilty of letting him have a third glass of milk or juice between meals because at least then we are certain that something is in his little belly. We all think, When he gets a bit older, he will eat. The truth is, we are beat by the stubborn refusals and we just give in.

Instead of telling parents to stop trying to introduce a certain food that their child continues to reject; thinking they will eventually learn to love, I would urge the parent to begin a food journal and look for patterns.

I would also suggest that parents look for physical cues and reasons of why a child rejects a certain food. Such as maybe the child is pressing their bellies up against the counter because they are experiencing a food sensitivity issue and their belly hurts- maybe the child is not really a “picky eater” but more of a “selective eater” due to their bodies reaction to certain foods. Some children that are picky, might just be selective eaters, could be reacting to their own bodies’ defense mechanisms. Chapter for is a great resource for this topic.

Children who are not speaking yet, or have been identified as disabled or on the autistic spectrum might not be eating due to internal reactions to the foods. Your child’s body will naturally reject certain foods for a multitude of reasons. This is a good time to begin identifying food allergies. If children react to certain foods, pay close attention. The body may be asking or help. Observe these cues and keep a food journal. Whatever foods are causing these reactions should stay off the menu forever. Look for symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, low intestinal integrity, shortness of breath, or hives, just to name a few. This is unlike being a picky eater and should be identified as “food intolerance.” If the digestive system alone rejects the food, finding it difficult to digest properly, seek help sooner than later. Along with other irritant reactions, sometimes intolerances are hard to immediately recognize.

Observe, take notes, list the nuisance foods or dislikes and the responses you see your child having, and get to a medical professional as soon as possible if necessary.
                                                                                   
                       
5. How does this book address the vegetable struggle that many parents face?                                                     
To my knowledge, no child has starved to death from his picky eating habits.It’s easy for parents to feel apprehensive when their growing child isn’t consuming the calories they feel his growing body requires. In most cases, if the child’s height and weight are within the normal range, there is nothing to worry about. If you are worried, get reassurance from a physician.

Children’s bodies are small. They need smaller portion sizes and will eat up to six times a day. In fact, experts suggest an adult body should be fueled periodically throughout the day by six small meals containing 200 to 250 calories per meal- so, at with your child; don’t just stand or sit there. Lead by example.

If you can, imagine your child’s little body and visualize that the capacities are much less, and you will understand this concept better. Don’t forget, most toddlers like to binge on one food at a time. They may eat only fruits one day and then only vegetables the next. Since erratic eating habits are as normal as a toddler mood swing, expect your child to eat well one day and practically nothing the next. Your child won’t starve; they will eat when they are hungry.

I urge parents to aim for a nutritionally-balanced week, not a balanced day. All this is not to say that you shouldn’t encourage toddlers and small children to eat well and develop healthy food habits.

Based on my hands-on experience with children, I’ve developed several tactics to tempt little taste buds and minimize mealtime hassles. Keep in mind, In order to shift this pattern, you must alter your feeding habits and set a new agenda of healthy food consumption for your children and set a firm example and stick to your plan. Be fair,and transparent. Teach long term objectives that will support a positive relationship surrounding food. Doing so can head off many challenges that we can avoid later as our child grows. A good example is many parents hide vegetables. Double-dealing your child about food, or anything for that matter, is not respectable practice. This parenting scheme can set up relationship issues later when an open line of communication is needed most—during tween and teen years. Being honest about food or anything else can help your child trust you, leading to a positive, open and engaged avenue of interaction later.

Also, parents should keep in mind our sense of taste tells our brains which of the four basic tastes we are experiencing: sweet, salty, sour or bitter. If a child develops a preference for one of those flavors from an early age, odds are she will stick to foods with similar flavor profiles. Humans have a genetic preference for sweet and salty and a genetic displeasure for bitter and sour.

Children list sweet foods like ice cream as their favorites and, as you could probably guess, bitter foods like brussels sprouts and spinach as their least favorites. Dr. James Keaney, a practicing physician in the San Francisco Bay area, confirms that children, like adults, have a natural aversion to bitter foods, which may be a survival measure. Most naturally-occurring poisons taste bitter and initiate a gag reflex. Therefore, the child is not to blame; it’s our body’s natural defense.

Some flavors and even textures may take longer to be accepted than others. Over time, food fights will disappear if the parent remembers to utilize a few proven techniques, flavor enhancers, and a big dash of fortitude.

I hope I’ve demonstrated to you and your readers, it is possible for your child to have a positive, healthy relationship with food and eating. All it takes is a new perspective. Give up your old concepts about feeding, and emerge with a new blueprint. Swear off fast food restaurants, begin reading labels, educate yourself on what is actually going into your family’s bodies, and make meal times a positive, significant time of the day for the whole family.

Child raising goes by so fast it would be a shame to miss it because we spent so much time stressing over a stalk of broccoli.

Patty: Thank you so much for your time Gigi.



 Food Fight: For Parents of Picky Eaters is available at Barnes and Noble, and Amazon



CHEF GIGI GAGGERO is a nationally recognized expert in children's culinary education. She is the Former Dean and Academic Director of Le Cordon Bleu’s Hospitality Management Program, and founder of Kids Culinary Adventures, a professional culinary school for children and teens. She has appeared in a variety of broadcast media outlets, has been a frequent guest on Radio Disney, and is a regular contributor to numerous parenting and health magazines. Her latest book is Food Fight: For Parents of Picky Eaters (Koehler Press, August 31, 2018).



Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Comments

  1. Eating spinach seemed to be something my daughter did not like when she was very young. Also, cranberries and pecans for sure. I tried different recipes and found several that she did not mind eating the things she did not like. I was told that children needed to be introduced to the foods they did not like and eventually they would get use to it.
    This is a very good article. I enjoyed reading it.

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