Picky eaters. We may have one, we may have been one or we may be married to one.
How many times have you found yourself engaged in mealtime negotiations when your child refuses to eat what you have prepared? Or, perhaps your child tries to take control and demands profusely that he will not eat a ham sandwich today, (which just yesterday was his favorite), and instead wants to eat gummy snacks for lunch. If you don’t give in, it sets off a mealtime meltdown. And, forget about the old “clean plate club” idea.
(Related read: 3 Things Parents Do Differently When Their Child Becomes a Toddler). If you do give in, you feel you have added another notch in the “L” column on the parent card.
When you understand picky eaters and more so, children who are picky eaters, you can reduce your mealtime stress and enjoy meals more often, all the while, teaching your child how to make great choices through their own sense of empowerment.
There are a few simple and easy steps you can adopt to transition your child from deal maker to meal maker.
1) Provide healthy food options from which your child must choose.
When you give a child some decision-making responsibility, it provides a sense of empowerment. “Timmy, do you want to eat the green beans or the broccoli?” Either way, Timmy will have a veggie, but it is his choice.
A fun way of doing this in our home was by using a meal chart:
Create a small picture board with four sections (we used a write-on/wipe-off board).
- One section is main food, such as meat, pasta, fish, or a sandwich
- One section is a veggie or fruit side dish such as peas, carrots, cucumbers, grapes or apple slices
- One section is a starchy food, like a potato, rice or pasta, and
- One section is the healthy after-meal treat that could include fruit with whipped topping, a cookie, a granola bar cut into triangle pieces or sherbet
Keeping choices to two per food group will reduce the chance of overwhelming your child.
2) If your child refuses to pick from the food sections, let him know you will pick for him and that is the meal that will be served.
Kids will eat when they are hungry; you may have to endure a few temper tantrums before your child gets in to the swing of choosing his outcomes. Usually, a few days is all it takes. This also works well when kids become pre-teens and suddenly do not like any meal choices you have prepared. Kids become picky eaters all over again, you simply give them the choice option and let them become the creator of their preference.
3) Teach kids that mealtime is a fun and social time with another person.
Reminding kids through actions will work wonders. Remind children that it is time to enjoy each others company and disconnect from the TV or devices. Of course, the parent must do this as well; no devices at the table. Start a discussion about the food, the taste, texture, the color or shape, and focus on enjoying the meal. Mindless eating, whether as a child or an adult, contributes to weight gain and prevents us from noticing the cues for hunger and satiation.
While we can’t fend off every nuance of mealtime mayhem when it comes to kids, we can develop new techniques that will guide children and instill healthy habits when it pertains to food.
Do you have picky eaters in your home? Share your story! Drop us a line; we’d like to hear from you and possibly, feature your story in an upcoming blog.
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