Many children go through a phase where they are a picky eater. It can be a hard experience for a parent because everyone gets frustrated. Children aren’t happy at the table and parents don’t want to constantly feed their kids junk food just to get them to eat. This blog post has some tips to help you make it through the picky eating phase.
You wouldn’t like it if someone put you in a chair and told you exactly what you were going to do—and kids don’t like it either. This section explores easy ways to give your kid more control over their dinner.
Give kids control over the menu
That doesn’t mean you should eat pizza every night. Offer your kid a choice between two meals (or two side dishes, salad dressings, etc) that you don’t mind them eating. They will be more likely to eat if they chose to eat it (even if it is a healthy option you approve of).
Give kids control over their place setting
To help children feel more in control, let them win battles you’re willing to lose. Buy some special plates and let them decide which ones to use. Let them choose their utensils. Who cares if your child has two forks—unless of course you’re eating soup!
Respect “I’m not hungry”
Some days I’m famished and other days I can barely eat a sandwich. Kids are exactly the same way. If they’ve been running around at the playground all morning, they’ll probably eat more than that rainy day the family watched movies. When your child says they aren’t hungry, respect their decision. You can always feed them more later that night. Just make sure they aren’t skipping dinner to have a midnight snack of ice cream!
I’m a big believer that kids should understand where food comes from and how it is made. If people aren’t connected to their food, they’re less likely to eat well.
Take children shopping with you
You don’t have to take them shopping every time you go — and you certainly don’t need to include them when you’re going for a three-hour, massive shop. But it’s important your kids occasionally swing through the produce section with you. How do you pick out a good apple? What do you look for when buying cauliflower? Show your children the care you give the groceries and teach them how to pick out bananas that are the perfect ripeness for your family.
Cook with your kid
I believe food should be a celebration. It’s amazing that food keeps us alive. Teach your kid what you know about spices; explain which ones go well together. Show them how you measure flour when you bake or how to crack an egg. These are all important life skills. Plus, what kid wouldn’t want to eat pancakes they stirred by themselves—even if it has some whole wheat in it!
Make mealtime fun. Sitting down with the family should be a happy experience. Tell jokes. Talk about your day. Ask your child questions. (It’s a great time to check up on how school is going.). Avoid phone calls, text messages and television if you can.
It would be boring to eat the same food at the same temperature everyday. But the great thing about foods is that they come in every temperature. If your child won’t eat their veggies, try frozen peas instead of steamed ones. (Grapes are also great frozen if they’re missing fruits). Experiment with different temperatures and see if that lures your child back to the dinner table.
Dips and Sauces
Also experiment with dips and sauces on veggies. Buy two different types of hummus and try them both with carrots. Which one did your child like better and why? There’s nothing wrong with putting sauces, dips or salad dressings on vegetables, as long as it’s in moderation. (My son will only eat carrots with hummus!)
Sneak in Baby Foods
Jars of baby food and bland tasting veggies like zucchini are a great way to sneak veggies into other meals. Add a jar of carrot or cauliflower baby food to your macaroni & cheese. Finely shred zucchini into cakes and muffins. If you use a bit of creativity, you can get a jar of baby food or a shredded veggie into almost any meal—except, perhaps steak!
Things every parent can do
There are also some things you can do to make your life easier even if your child doesn’t cooperate.
Set a good example
Kids will always refuse broccoli if Dad does. Be a good example for your kids and eat the same foods you’re trying to get them to eat.
Don’t make 100 meals each night
You are a parent, not a chef. Don’t cook ten different meals each night so everyone in the family is happy… all you’re doing is wearing yourself out.
New foods take time
It can take kids many nights before they’ll actually like a new food. If they don’t like carrots one way, try them another. If you keep exposing them to spinach in different forms, eventually one might become their favorite!
Make a consistent dinner schedule at a similar time and create patterns that the child can expect. Don’t force them to eat cabbage one night and then tell them cookies are ok the next. Don’t allow TV one night at the table and then expect them to talk about their day the next night. Have a predictable routine so kids know what behavior is consistently expected of them when they sit down.
Food isn’t a reward
Don’t use food as a reward for kids. You’re setting up bad habits for your kids if they associate junk food with being good. Similarly, you shouldn’t comfort your kids (when they scrape their leg) with a chocolate bar. That trains them to turn to food when they are feeling miserable as an adult. Remember food isn’t love. You don’t love your children any more by serving them cookies.
Pick your battles
No rule should be 100%. Pick your battles. If nobody has any energy, there’s nothing wrong with eating pizza in front of the TV. Just make sure that’s not their normal meal…
Good luck and happy eating!