Imagine being reprimanded for not eating your green beans or being sent to bed early because you refused to eat your fish. Even as adults we carry food aversions and would become frustrated if someone commented on our lack of an adventurous palate. Give your kid (and yourself) a break. Children, especially young ones, are typically cautious about trying new things, especially food. Below are a few guidelines that will hopefully make mealtimes less of a battle.
- Respect the “division of responsibility in feeding”. In the words of Ellen Satter, a dietitian and the authority on eating and feeding, responsibility of feeding falls into two categories: 1. The parent is responsible for the what, when and where of feeding; 2. The child is responsible for the how much and whether of eating.
- Enticing your children to eat is controlling. Employing crazy tactics to get your children to eat (trips to the ice cream shop, covering everything in ketchup or syrup) is going to backfire eventually. Remember, when you try to control a person, they will eventually turn around and try to control you. What happens when you run out of ketchup?
- Lower your expectations. I know this sounds crazy, but going in to the meal with little or no expectations except to have a pleasant experience sets the tone for the meal. Try to serve at least one accepted food as part of the meal, and then serve what the rest of the family is eating. Let your child choose the food they are going to eat. Note: limit the portion of the acceptable food. A plate full of white rice isn’t going to work!
- Use serving bowls. Allow your child to serve themselves, even if it’s one kernel of corn or one green bean. You are giving your child control over their meal, which gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment if they decide to eat it.
- Repetition. Serve “new” foods repeatedly. Your child will grow to accept that this food is part of the family diet. Eventually, they will try the food. It is their responsibility to decide of they will like it and add it to their list of acceptable foods.
- “The kitchen is closed”. You are not a short order cook. What is on the table is what’s for dinner. Giving your child a yogurt or heating up an Easy-Mac is teaching them that they do not need to participate in the meal or try anything new.
- Give praise. When your child decides to try a new food, this is a big deal. Remember new foods can be scary. If you have ever had sushi before, do you remember the first time you tried it? Kids feel this way about all new foods. Even if they spit it out, tell them they did a good job. They tried something new.
Sometimes a child is “beyond picky”, and parents become worried about their child’s health. If your child is underweight, is experiencing slow growth or is showing signs of being nutritionally deficient (complains of fatigue, pale skin,etc) see your pediatrician. They may recommend you see a registered dietitian to evaluate your child for deficiencies and to develop a plan to get your child back on track. Already at that point? Give me a call!