Ending Mealtime Battles, Part Three: The Picky Eater
The Picky Eater.
It happens to the best of us.
The biggest mealtime power struggle, is often about what our children will or will not eat. This can be the toughest area to make changes to, because it can require a completely new mindset for some parents. A new perspective for everyone, in fact.
There are a few important changes that can be made, to remove the power struggle of trying to force a child to eat, or to try something new.
The Choice is Theirs: At every meal, be sure to offer your child something nutritious that you know she definitely likes, and allow her to have as much or as little of it, as she wants. That way, you can totally relax because you know she’s eaten enough and that it was something healthy, should she choose to eat nothing else. As for the rest of the menu, prepare and present food as you normally would for your family (as opposed to just one person’s likes or dislikes).
Encourage your child to try the other foods on the table, but avoid too much dialogue or concern about it. If she only wants to eat that one thing, fine. Go on with enjoying your meal and modelling how great everything else tastes. It won’t be long before curiosity gets the better of her.
Avoid Multi-Menu Meals: To pacify picky eaters, some parents get roped into making different meals simultaneously, to make certain the child eats something. Ensuring there is always an “acceptable food“ offered with other choices, completely eliminates the need for this. It also helps demonstrate to your child that your family is a team unit and that parents are leaders, not kitchen slaves.
I recognize that it sounds too easy to be true, but it works. The more often your child sees the other members of a family eating a certain food, the more likely they are to try it. A positive environment is crucial to building a healthy relationship with food, and healthy eating habits.
Make sure to offer those choices that he or she refuses, continually, in your rotation. And be patient. It can take many exposures, before they’ll consider trying it!
Chronic Snackers: Often, picky eaters also need to get out of the habit of eating too little at meals, and expecting something else to be prepared for them soon after. To curb this, create a family rule that eating happens only at meal and snack times, rather than constantly. For example, let it be known that if they get down from the breakfast table without eating much, there will be nothing else to eat for 1.5 to 2 hours, at snack time. This helps children learn to put more thought into listening to their bodies and whether they have had enough to eat.
Fillers: Avoid juice and milk between meals and really, try to avoid too much juice at all. It’s generally chock full of sugar and empty calories that kids will use to float on by with, rather than relying on food. Milk/milk alternatives should be offered at mealtimes only, with water being available to them any time.
Involve Them: They’re more likely to try something new, when they’ve helped create it. A child might turn their nose up at something with guacamole on it or in it, until they see it’s just mainly beautiful fresh avocados. Getting them cooking with you and learning about ingredients, etc. will help a great deal!
Most importantly: Remember to avoid all battles, bribes, threats, and “rewards”. However, it is a perfectly logical consequence that if he or she has eaten none of anything nutritious, it would make sense that they didn’t eat junk food afterward. This is not a “reward” or “consequence” though, per se…simply a reality.
By removing all battles and worry from the meal table, you will make a huge difference in how your child builds and views their relationship with food.
In Summary: Provide those picky eaters with healthy choices at every meal and allow them to eat as much or as little as they would like, knowing there will be nothing more until the next snack/meal time. Limit fillers through the day, such as milk, juice, or snacks with low caloric value (crackers). Stay firm in your family rules about mealtimes and table manners. If your family rule is that everyone stays at the table until everyone is finished, then stay consistent with that. Lastly, try and try again. Keep offering new foods, stick to your guns, and change will indeed come!