Mealtimes can be stressful at times for everyone, especially if your child is a picky eater. Here are some easy tips that you can start immediately to decrease mealtime stress.
Do avoid the use of the term “picky eater”.
This gives children an easy out when it comes to trying new foods. This becomes part of their identity that may give them a leg up on the attention compared to their siblings.
Do swallow the urge to making a big deal out of what they ARE or what they are NOT eating.
The more encouragement from what they ARE eating can hasten their decision to stop eating that food. There is a lot of pressure on your child that if they like that food they will have to eat it forever, so of course it is much safer for them to say that they don’t like it, remaining neutral allows them to make that choice without the threat. Commenting on what they are NOT eating can be the perfect recipe for an independence struggle.
Do expect 10-15 trials of offering a new food before your child will actually decide if they will eat it and if they like it
It is ok if it is stepwise. One pea in the rice, a spoonful of peas on the plate.
Do turn off all electronics and put away distractions during meal times.
That means turning off the TV and allowing your phone to ring. Not only will it keep YOU more in tune with enjoying your food and noticing when you are hungry or full, but it will also provide a social and emotional benefit linked to enjoying your meals. Use this time to discuss your day, what is coming up to look forward to throughout the week, or to discuss with your children where the food you are eating came from and how it will help them grow and achieve. This helps bring enjoyment back to mealtimes that may have been tainted by “picky eater” struggles.
Make sure you are not being picky! Do model good behavior.
Children look up to you and want to be like you. This is true for eating as well. If they see you drinking your milk, eating your veggies, trying new foods, etc. they are more likely to do the same. I also caution against criticizing your own weight or discussing dieting in front of your children. This can affect their body image and lead to dieting at a young age.
Remember that kid’s motivation to eat healthy foods is different from yours. They are not concerned with preventing diabetes or cancer at this stage in their life so discussing what will happen if they don’t eat their veggies is not typically leading them to consume more.
Do allow dessert, but do not create promises of dessert as a reward for eating the main dish or veggies on the plate.
This plays into the thought that dessert is tasty and the other foods must be terrible if they are the burden to trudge through.
- Child of Mine: Book Review on Pediatric Nutrition
Do understand that it is scary to try new foods
As adults we have experiences that tell us what to expect when biting into a new food. Kids are typically going in blind. Help them by comparing the food to another food in texture and taste to help them become comfortable with tasting the new food.
- How to get children to care about nutrition.
Do get creative.
If you are dealing with a limited number of foods that your child will eat, is it possible to serve them at a different temperature, cut in a different shape, purchase a different brand or flavor? Getting used to things being different on their plate may be the first step in trying something new.
Do keep everything transparent.
Let children know what the plan is for trying new foods. Give them time in advance to understand what is going on. Try to avoid the temptation to sneak in new foods. This might include keeping a calendar filled in with the meals for the week. You can include them by giving them options such as a choice between rice and potatoes or between broccoli and carrots.
- Five tips for healthy home cooking.
Do allow time for your child to increase their variety.
Not every day has to be part of trying something new. Start with one day a week in a time frame where the child is well rested and stress free.
Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients. Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.