Are your kids driving you crazy at meal times? Good news, there is hope for picky eaters!
Positive Approach at Meal Times
Research suggests that with time and repeated exposure (without pressure) most children will accept new foods. You can also breathe a sigh of relief that the vast majority of children who are considered to be picky eaters do not actually have severely restricted diets, or sub-optimal growth. It is actually completely normal, do not worry!
What you can do, is help children have an open mind during meal times. Especially when new foods are introduced. Make the rule: “You need to try at least one bite.” A “polite bite” rule. This reinforces the need to respect the food and the cook, but keeps the pressure low. They do not have to have more if they do not wish.
Force feeding kids, for example, “You will not leave the table till you have finished,” usually causes the child to rebel. If not in the moment than later on in life. They will also often continue to be a picky eaters–when they are not so afraid to speak their minds–when they become a teenager and even into adulthood. You want your kids to have fond and happy memories when they think back on mealtimes right?
Using threats to illicit desired outcomes in behavior is very unhealthy and will ultimately undermine their faith in you. Another example, “If you do not eat this you will not get to go on your play date.” These kind of threats cause children to feel undermined and disrespected because you are using power to try to control the situation. Ensuing power struggles can make mealtimes a drag. Also, when they think about food, they will start associating food with negative emotions and therefore may develop unhealthy food habits in the future.
Educate them about foods and health: Let them know the benefits of certain food and veggies (doing your best to not be preachy and long-winded!).
Be calm: Even if you’re frustrated or worried about a picky eater, try to at least fake a carefree front. Do you best not to call them or label them as a picky eater.
Lower your expectations: Like most parents, you probably tell your children that all you want is for them to taste the soup you prepared for dinner. However, secretly you are hoping they will eat more. That is a lot of pressure. Celebrate a single, solitary taste.
Be the example, eat new foods and enjoy them yourself. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you are not especially into broccoli but you know they are good for the kids, just take a bite or two yourself. Either way, set an example by saying appreciative things. “This looks great!” Even one little “mmm” can go a long way towards creating a positive family habit.
Offer an alternative to announcing “I don’t like it.” Do your best to resist the urge to ask your kids if they like what they have tasted. Instead, ask them to describe what they’ve eaten in terms of taste, texture, aroma, appearance and temperature. Young children do not have what researchers call stable taste preferences. When it comes to liking different foods, their taste preferences are all over the place. Once they have decided that, “I don’t like it,” this boxes kids into an opinion that can be difficult to change.
Change Your Perception
Rather than viewing your child as non-compliant, we can recognize this show of independence at mealtimes as completely appropriate for their age. Your child will be discriminating based on newly recognized qualities of foods such as taste, texture, presentation and familiarity.
Focus your attention on fostering your child’s healthy eating without pressuring. Enjoy the time spent together during meals, rather than focusing on your child’s intake
Even if a food has initially been rejected, try and try again. It can take between 10 to 15 exposures to get a child to like a new food.
Teach them to spit food out discreetly. Let’s be honest, our kids will not immediately like everything they taste for the first time. And if they know that swallowing is optional, they will be more willing to actually place the new food in their mouth. So keep a pile of napkins handy and teach your child to use them as needed, without making a big fuss. This important skill will help them be more comfortable around new foods at home and in public.
Some Practical Ways to Encourage Children to Eat (in this case) Veggies:
- Before dinner hand out a bowl of raw vegetables to snack on. Or make a sampler plate. Everything looks and tastes better to a kid who is genuinely hungry.
- Make veggies fun using shape cutters. These are some great ones:
- Grow veggies together- Let them help in the garden. Kids tend to eat tons of fresh vegetables in the summer because they have invested their own time and effort to help the garden grow since spring.
- Dip them in hummus (also a great way to practice fine motor skills)
- Avocado- Use it as an alternative spread for butter or margarine on sandwiches.
- Cook and serve food in unexpected ways to tempt children into eating something they might have previously refused. For example, kebabs are a great way to get children to eat fruits and vegetables. Also, try roasting vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower instead of steaming, or cooking carrots instead of serving them raw. Texture can play a significant role in what children want or do not want to eat, so changing things up in simple ways can make a huge difference.
- Grate or puree veggies and add them to sauces etc.
- Try soups- Some Mothers swear by this technique for getting lots of veggies into their kids.
- Freeze veggies and serve them as popsicles. By the time it melts and their mouth is cold, the taste isn’t as strong
- Smoothies: add a handful of spinach to smoothies, they will not taste it
- Bake veggies, like kale or sweet potatoes, for healthy, crispy chips
- Getting the whole family involved in meal preparation can relieve mealtime stress. You don’t have to do it on your own! Have your child wash foods while you chop, or set the table while dinner is in the oven. Research shows that kids who are involved in preparing meals have more positive attitudestowards food and are more likely to subsequently eat the food that they help to prepare.
- Take kids to the grocery store and have them be excited to pick out veggies you will eat that evening.
- The power of choice is huge. “Should we have carrots or celery? Should we cut the jicama in sticks or cubes?” Choose two options that you are okay with and let the kids decide.
- Meals that allow preschoolers to serve themselves also work well so that they can negotiate the amount or nature of the food (for example, not including the sauce).
- Give kids the green light to munch on as many fresh fruits and vegetables as they can. Have carrot and cucumber sticks on hand in the fridge. Do this also with fruit. Small portions in baggies, ready to eat. Let the kids know exactly where they are in the fridge, and that they can grab some anytime. It feels good for children to be able to get a snack themselves. This also helps for when you are on the go and can quickly grab healthy snacks on your way out! One way to make this eco-friendly is to use these re-usable baggies (they are dishwasher safe!):
Thanks you so much for reading!