5 Tips To Help “Picky Eaters”
I hear a lot of parents describe their child as a “picky eater”. Usually, what they mean by this is that their child only eats a few, select foods of their own choosing. Picky eating is seen as a problem when the foods the child is willing to eat do not align with what the parent thinks the child should be eating.
First of all, some degree of picky eating is really normal. It is totally normal for a child to prefer some tastes, flavors or textures over others. And let’s face it, lots of the foods we want our kids to eat can be less highly palatable or even acquired tastes. Vegetables and proteins do not have any added sugars so they honestly may not taste quite as good to the child as foods with added sugars or even fruit which has lots of natural sugars. Think back to when you were a child. What did you like to eat? Why did you like it?
The good news is that just because your child is “picky” doesn’t mean that you must only serve your child the foods that they are willing to eat right now. Over time, you can help them learn to eat and enjoy new foods.
5 Tips To Help “Picky Eaters”
Plan Your Meals In Advance
I am a huge advocate of planning meals in advance for a lot of reasons but none more than the fact that planning meals in advance gives you the opportunity to serve your child the foods that you want them to eat.
Have a meal planning strategy session with your child. Sit down together and decide in advance what meals you’ll have that week. This gives your child a voice in the process and often helps them be more engaged in the meal as a whole. They can tell you what foods and flavors they like. You can talk about what each family member likes to eat and make a plan to include at least one thing that every person likes. This is also a good opportunity to talk about new foods and gain some insight into why your child is currently unwilling to eat them or even try them.
In the end, be willing to put at least one food that you know your child likes on the menu for each meal.
Make Meals Stress Free
Do not force or pressure your child to eat or even take a bite of the food they are skeptical about. Make meals light and easy. Do not cajole, bribe, punish or offer rewards for trying something new. Before you sit down to eat, decide in your own mind that your only job as the parent is to provide your child with the opportunity to eat the food provided and that it is ok if they choose not to eat it or try it at this meal. Put a very tiny amount of the new food on their plate and leave it at that. The exposure to the food at the meal is what matters. Repeated, pressure-free food exposures can often help kids be willing to try something.
Timing of Meals and Snacks
I am not a huge fan of snacking for several reasons but especially for picky eaters. Food looks and tastes much better when we are truly hungry and your child is likely to be less picky and more interested in eating a wider variety of foods if they are truly hungry. If your child sits down to dinner after just recently having had a snack, they can afford to be choosier about what they will eat. It is ok, more than ok in fact, it is beneficial for our kids to get a little hungry between regular meals and snacks. Hunger is not an emergency. It is just a signal that your body is requesting fuel and nourishment.
Educate your Child About What Different Foods Offer Their Body
Kids want to be healthy and they want to take care of their bodies. It is helpful to teach them why we want them to eat certain foods. Instead of, “Eat this. It’s healthy.” Try this. “We are eating salmon because it is an excellent source of B vitamins which we need to keep our brains and nervous system working really well. Oh, and it tastes great!” or “Spinach gives us iron. We need iron to make our red blood cells which help us run really fast.” Sharing nutrition facts will help your child learn that the food choices they make definitely matter in how well their body works.
Expect and Allow Frustration (Yours and Theirs)
Even if you have followed above tip #1 and you and your child planned the meal together, when the time comes to actually eat that meal, please be fully prepared that they may not be very happy with that plan in the current moment. That is ok! Nothing has gone wrong. Their brain is offering them thoughts that they want to change the plan and eat something that is not on the menu tonight. No problem. It is just their thought that things should be different than they are. It is a thought error. Totally understandable. Expect their frustration, plan for it, acknowledge it, allow it and stay the course. “This is the dinner we are having tonight. I hope you will enjoy it. It is ok with me if you don’t. It is not a problem if you don't.”
It is important to model the food choices and the eating behaviors that you want your child to have and it is ok if they are sometimes frustrated by your choices of what you think they should be eating. You decide what to offer and your child can decide if they want to eat it.
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