Photo from Pixabay.com
Here’s a little glimpse into my family’s daily conversation around dinnertime:
ME: “Who wants dinner? I’m hungry!”
C: “Not me!”
HUSBAND: “Mmmm C, do you want ________ ?”*insert menu item for that night*
C: “No. I don’t like dinner. I want breakfast!”
Now I know we’re not the only family with littles who have reservations about the foods served at mealtime. And for us, it is our oldest who has the pickiest palate. It’s hard for me to relate to him on this, because I don’t recall ever being a truly picky eater. Sure, there were some foods I would whine about, but as far as I can recall, I have always loved to eat! My oldest son: Now, I KNOW that he loves to eat. He’s human! And there are some foods that he goes gaga over. But it has definitely been a struggle to help him establish good eating habits.
The most prevalent characteristics of my son’s pickiness are:
- Not enjoying the concept of dinnertime (we have to stop playing, it’s more formal than other meals, it usually has foods that are less familiar than the other meals’ foods)
- Being wary about trying new foods
- Feeling pressured by eating with Mom and Dad (he seems to feel more comfortable when he eats alone)
It can be an extremely frustrating thing having a picky eater. As parents, we want to teach our kids healthy habits- we want them to have a healthy relationship with food. So what can we do, those of us who have kids who would almost rather starve themselves than eat vegetables?
1. Remain calm and assert your authority
This sounds intense, but as a parent, YOU are in control of how things go in your house: If you want to have nightly family dinner, make it a rule that everyone has to sit down and eat together; if you want your child to eat healthy foods, offer them healthy foods most of the time; if you don’t want your child to fill up on snacks before meals, don’t provide more than one snack between meals.
2. Don’t allow your child to eat snacks after dinner
In our house we don’t allow our kids to eat after dinner because we want them to actually eat their dinner. We feel that if they know they can always snack on something after dinner, then they’ll rely on that and just choose to not eat dinner if they don’t like what’s being offered. The exception here is when we have dessert after dinner. Once my oldest consistently eats a decent amount of dinner every night, then I can see us providing healthy snacks before bed if he gets hungry late at night.
3. Keep offering plenty of options
I’ve been told that it can take 10-20 times of a food being offered before a kid actually eats that food. Therefore, just because your kid rejects a food you give them doesn’t mean you should stop offering it to them! Keep putting it on their plate, and eventually they may decide that they like it. 🙂
4. Don’t force your kid to eat
Here is a little secret every parent learns pretty early-on: You can’t force a child to eat or sleep. For some reason, kids sometimes seem to fight their natural instincts! It drives us parents crazy, because we know what’s best for them!!! Nevertheless, we must let our kids make choices for themselves, even when the choices are simple. You can put food on your kid’s plate, but you can’t MAKE them eat it. Plus, allowing them this little bit of freedom may help prevent unhealthy relationships with food later on.
5. Involve your child in decisions about food
Little ones love being independent and learning how to do things for themselves. Involve your child with cooking (this is something my son has been interested in lately!). Also, let your child make choices about food sometimes. For example, you can offer a few different options at snack time and allow him or her to choose which snack they want. You can even go further if your child isn’t too excited about what’s being served at dinner; you can let them choose one food item on their plate that they will eat all of.
6. . Be optimistic
Our kids can sense when we are stressed. Try to speak positively about food and bodies. And set a positive example! If your kid sees you enjoying and trying a variety of foods, they will be more likely to try the foods as well. And remember: Your child won’t starve himself/herself! Even though at times it may seem like they’ll try…. They won’t let themselves starve, so consistently offer them a variety of healthy foods!