Picky eaters can undermine the best meal planning. Parents can easily get into a rut of serving only a select number of foods their kids will eat. Many resort to bargaining, bribing and coercing just to get their kids to eat a few bites of something healthy. Here, pediatrician Dr. Orlena Kerek outlines how to improve picky eating and establish lifelong healthy eating habits.
I had just made the first Thanksgiving dinner of my life. Because we live across the country from my parents, I wanted to recreate a feeling of comfort and familiarity on one of my favourite Holidays. I slaved away all day making stuffing, gravy and side dishes.
I should have anticipated the reaction of my picky eaters. But I didn’t.
It started with my son.
“Yuck! That looks so gross.”
“It’s just like chicken, hon. You love chicken.”
Then my daughter sat down.
“There is no chance I’m eating any of that!”
“It’s OK!” I replied. “You don’t have to eat anything you don’t like and there will be something that you can eat.”
Here is Dr. Orlena Kerek from Happy Healthy Eating for Kids on how to handle picky eaters.
Picky eaters are a source of stress and worry for their parents. Mealtimes become battlegrounds and eating can get worse.
Picky eating is so common that some professionals consider it a normal part of development.
(Obviously, there are degrees of picky eating.) They see it as no one’s fault your child is picky. Simply, It’s just one of those things like having asthma.
First, avoid the “feeding mindset”
As parents, we spend hours cooking dinner every week, hoping for a relaxed and happy meal with our family. We take time to plan meals, grocery shop and prepare each meal. Our goal is to provide vital nutrients for our kids.
When dinner time comes, your picky eaters have a different idea. All they want is to eat bread and cheese!
Related reading: How to End Power Struggles with Your Strong-Willed Child
As is the case with bringing a horse to water, healthy eating is not about forcing, bribing or threatening your picky eaters to eat. You can’t change your children. However, you can help them by providing them with an understanding and nurturing environment.
Parents have two jobs when it comes to child nutrition:
- Create a “happy eating environment” where we help to reduce our children’s anxiety and they don’t feel pressured into eating.
- Provide healthy food at regular “eating opportunities” (meal and snack times).
Our children’s job is to:
- Decide if they eat, and
- How much they eat.
In short, you decide what is offered. You should always make sure you offer one food you know they will eat so they are satiated. You also decide when food is offered. Your children decide what they put in their mouths and how much.
Related reading: How to Prevent Kids From Preferring Snacks to Regular Meals
Picky Eaters – Golden Rule Number 1
Creating a happy healthy eating environment isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
My number 1 tip is to not pressure your kid to eat. In fact, take it a step further and stop
wanting them to eat!
Instead, think of it as you inviting them to eat. If they want to, great. If they don’t want to, there’ll be another healthy eating opportunity in a few hours time.
Pressuring your child to eat isn’t just as obvious as, “Eat that or else!” It can also come in more subtle forms such as coaxing and bribery. For instance, “If you don’t eat, there will be no dessert.” Or, “Take two more bites and then you’re done.”
Eating shouldn’t be an emotional activity.
We should eat because we’re hungry and stop when we’re full. Learning to trust your child’s hunger queues isn’t easy. But once we do, our children will develop healthier eating habits.
Related reading: Why You Shouldn’t Punish Tantrums and What to Do Instead
Picky Eaters – Golden Rule Number 2
Offer lots of variety!
Do you sometimes feel that your child is in an eating rut? For instance, they want pizza and goldfish crackers for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
It’s easy to reach for the same foods time and again because we hope they’ll be accepted and we’ll have a quiet meal.
The problem with this approach is that our fickle kids stop liking certain foods and their diet
gets narrower and narrower.
Your child can’t learn to eat mushrooms if they’ve never seen them.
Don’t expect them to eat all of the variety (think of it as there for you.) Offer variety and their safe foods at the same time and gradually they’ll open up. Picky eating can last for years (and not all children grow out of picky eating).
Healthy eating is like riding a bicycle
Healthy eating is something we learn to do. Our kids naturally prefer sweet foods to cabbage.
As parents, it’s our job to teach them healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
Healthy eating certainly doesn’t happen overnight but what you can do is provide them
with a happy eating environment and keep presenting them with variety.
Gradually your kids will learn to stop automatically saying “yuck” before they’ve even seen
the food. One day they’ll surprise you by trying something new and before you know it you’ll have totally forgotten that they were ever a picky eater (as you worry about the next parenting issue which has taken its place!)