6 Tips for Dealing With Picky Eaters
Growing up, many of us were told that “you’re not done a meal, or you can’t have dessert, until you’ve finished what is on your plate.” Because so many of us heard this as we were growing up, we believe it when we eat and have tried to install these “good” eating habits in our children to make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need. The trouble is, this approach isn’t always as helpful as we think it is, and it can even have some negative consequences on the way that our kids deal with food.
The “you’re not done until your plate is clean” approach teaches kids to eat with their eyes, not their stomachs, so it causes them to ignore their natural hunger and fullness cues and overeat. Urging, arguing or bribing kids can also create a stressful environment for kids who are just learning to enjoy food.
This is a crucial time to foster a positive relationship to your child and their food. All kids are different, and it’s important to learn to trust your child to make their meal choices as they will eat the amount of food their growing bodies need. You may feel like your child isn’t eating enough…but trust them! If they’re hungry, they’ll eat.
If you’re dealing with food issues in your home with your kids, here are some tips to help you get through it:
1. Do Nothing!
If you happen to have a kid who isn’t always happy with the food that is served, your best bet is actually to do nothing! Don’t force them to eat it, don’t make a fuss about it, don’t argue with the child or your partner, and most importantly, don’t tell them they’re a picky eater. Why? By making a fuss and calling the child a picky eater, you’ve given them permission to not eat the food.
If this is happening in your home regularly, it’s probably also a good time to look around the table and see what kind of behaviour you’re modelling. Are you eating the food? Are you urging your child to eat? Does it seem like a stressful environment? Is someone else making a fuss about not wanting to eat the broccoli or fish? Kids observe and absorb everything – it they know you don’t like mushrooms, they’re not going to want to eat them either.
2. Bring More Calm to Meal Time
Try to create a calm, family-friendly meal time. During meals, try to focus on your child’s behaviour (and your own) instead of what they’re eating. Are they calm? Are they getting worked up over certain dishes? Is your behaviour affecting them? When kids feel good and comfortable during meals and around food, they’ll start to enjoy almost any food. Dietitian Kristen Yarker has some great tips on how to make meal time less stressful for kids.
3. Stick to a Schedule
If your child isn’t eating at meal time, try to stick to a meal and snack schedule. Avoid letting them eat between those set times to help them learn to recognize their own internal hunger cues. Also, try to serve meals and snacks sitting down. This will be helpful for going to restaurants or friends houses to encourage your child to stay at the table instead of running around and eating.
4. Think About Texture
Often when kids don’t like something, it’s more about the texture than the taste. If your child spits out red lentils, try green lentils that have a bit more texture to them – it may be the squishy texture that they’re having a problem with.
5. Be Patient
Kids need up to 15 exposures to new foods before they can actually start enjoying them! So if your little one is really struggling with a new food, don’t lose hope. Try eating it alongside them, and be patient and calm through the process.
6. Be Flexible
If your child asks for more food, let them go for it! If they’re really loving something, allow them to eat as much of it as they want, even if another part of the meal isn’t finished yet. Allowing dessert first once in a while won’t harm them, and it’ll help them to associate food with fun.
Have you dealt with a “picky” eater? What are your tips for raising kids with healthy eating habits?
Maxine Silberg is a Registered Dietitian specializing in teaching cooking skills and increasing food knowledge around allergies and sensitivities.