If you read my previous post, then you already know that regular family dinners contribute to a family's overall happiness, physical health, and emotional health. But if you have small children, you probably are thinking "How can dinnertime be happy with a picky eater in the picture?"
Picky eating is normal!
Childhood picky eating is very normal! A study entitled "Food Rejections in Children: Cognitive and Social/Environmalen Factors Involved in Food Neophobia and Picky/Fussy Eating Behavior" illustrated justh ow common it is: nearly 39% of children aged 2-6 are picky or fussy eaters. The behavior usually starts around toddlerhood and begins to taper off by age 6. Even though this is a silver lining, 4+ years of picky eating can be draining.
7 Tips for handling picky eating
Since food is obviously necessary for ... um... living, it makes sense that a food battle would ensure. As a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure your child is well-nourished, but picky-eating definitely puts a wrench in that plan. Follow this tips for handling fussy eating with peace and respect:
Avoid yelling or forcing a child to finish his plate
Because much of fussy eating stems from panic and fear (picky eating is sometimes referred to as "Food Neophobia" in the science world), yelling or forcing a child to sit until the plate is clean only increases feelings of panic and fear. The more panic a child feels, the more negative feelings s/he will associate with dinnertime.
Include the nutrients where you can
My son definitely falls under the picky-eater category. My main goal is make sure he gets the proper nutrients. He loves fruits, vegetables, and grains. He does not like any form of meat so protein is where I struggle. I rely a lot of eggs and peanut butter. I make shakes for him occasionally to make sure he has enough protein. The simplest recipe I use is this:
Stick to what works
My son definitely can get into a rut with food, but as long as he is getting enough nutrients, I don't mind at all. Sticking to what I know he loves makes meals less of a battle. I know one day he'll be more adventurous, but for now, I'm just focusing on what he does enjoy.
Rewards can be a very slippery slope. If you reward a child for doing X behavior, it can (but not always) escalate to the point where s/he won't do anything without a reward. However, for short-term use, rewards can be very effective. If you are thinking of using rewards for eating, be sure to never use food as a reward. Consider a sticker chart for just trying.
Even though it gets tiring, always ask your child if they want to try a bite of X food. You will probably get a lot of "No thank you's" (I know I do!) but the key is to continue to expose your child to the new food. Eventually s/he will try it. Child experience food through social learning, which means that the more they see it, the more familiar it becomes, and the more likely it will be accepted. I love to add berries or bananas to my cereal and oatmeal but for years that has been a big fat No for my son. Instead of putting berries in his cereal, I slice them on a ramekin and let him eat them separate. One morning, much to my surprise, he dumped his berries in the cereal and happily ate it all. That may seem like small potatoes but for this Mama, that was a huge WIN! I was so proud of him; he did it all on his own without a battle. Now he loves his berries in his cereal, and he came to that conclusion all on his own.
Presentation for new foods is key for my son. The way I present it both verbally and physically plays a big part in whether or not he'll try it. I bought him fun plates and silverware that look like construction vehicles to help make meals more fun. The way I describe food also helps. We call broccoli "baby trees". He loves broccoli but the very first time I introduced it, he was wary. A simple name change was all he needed to give it a try.
The key to keeping the peace at the table is to remain pressure-free. Ask your child to try a food, but don't hound him. Remember that research shows that a child may need 10-15 tries of a food before he actually eats a serving.
Dealing with a picky eater can be tiring and exhausting and can be a major source of dinnertime drama. Following these tips can definitely help bring more peace to your table. What have you done to help a picky eater in your family? Comment below!
Wife & Mama with a passion for peaceful parenting, natural living, homeschooling... and my daily café au lait.