There’s a bottle of ranch dressing in my refrigerator.
It’s not homemade. Its not organic. It has preservatives and added sweetener and artificial flavor.
But because of this dressing, my ten year old eats baby carrots and bell peppers in his lunchbox and digs into green salads several nights a week.
I have mixed feelings about this dressing. There are ingredients in it that I try to avoid. And I make the vinaigrette my husband and I eat on our own salads (read: “5 Foods I Don’t Buy Anymore”).
But my kid likes ranch. Homemade ranch was rebuffed, and he didn’t like the various brands of natural and organic I bought. But having this particular bottled dressing around means he’ll eat (and enjoy) a lot more veggies.
As much as I’d rather not rely on ranch, I don’t think it’s an enemy. Like ketchup, it can actually be a vehicle for trying new foods or enjoying foods that might otherwise seem bland or bitter. In one study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, preschoolers who were especially sensitive to bitter flavors ate 80 percent more broccoli at snack time when it was served alongside ranch dressing.
Still, I feel a little guilty every time I pull the bottle out of the fridge. So I asked Katja Rowell, MD, aka The Feeding Doctor, for her take. I love Dr. Rowell’s reasonable, compassionate approach and was relieved that she gives the okay to ranch.
“I think parents are afraid that if their children don’t learn to like plain foods, they won’t learn to enjoy them, but for many kids it’s the opposite. Condiments and flavor, whether it’s Ranch, ketchup, hot sauce, or a little butter with a pinch of salt, help children learn to like more foods. A big part of feeding kids is creating a supportive environment where kids can learn to tap into good taste and variety, and Ranch can be a small piece of that puzzle. Having an open, positive attitude towards food helps children approach food with positivity and curiosity. You still decide what to serve your kids, but if you observe that Ranch is helping bring a positive attitude and openness to a wider variety of foods at the table, that’s a good thing.
Parents feel like they have to be perfect with nutrition and that can backfire. I see more and more kids with extreme picky eating and food aversions where the parents have tried to have only whole and unprocessed foods. But worry, conflict and anxiety can be toxic, and I believe is far more harmful than allowing Ranch dressing into a balanced intake.”
So yes, I’ll gradually try to broaden my son’s horizons when it comes to dressings and dips. (As a former picky eater myself, I also know that could take a while–and that’s okay.) But right now, for my son, a little bit of bottled ranch goes a long way toward both developing a habit of eating vegetables at meals and snacks and actually enjoying them. In the long run, I think that’s what really matters.
For more from Dr. Rowell, visit her website The Feeding Doctor. She is author of the book Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More. Her second book, about extreme picky eating, will be released next May.
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