Picky eating habits typically start around toddlerhood, a time when a child exerts independence, control and may be resistant to change or try new foods. However, not willing to eat brussel sprouts does not make one a picky eater – typically, there is a dislike for many types of foods but overall, adequate food consumption is essential for normal growth. Mealtime battles to get the child to eat the foods you want can be emotionally draining for the whole family.
Hope is not lost, here’s 8 ways you can do to end your child’s picky eating habits!
Tip #1 – Leave the Eating to the Child
The parents’ role is to serve a variety of healthy foods but not dictate how much and what to eat. Pause for a moment and imagine yourself in your child’s shoes – how would you feel if every single meal you are being told what to eat and how much to eat. Should the child choose not to eat certain foods, encourage him/her to try a bite and if he/she doesn’t like it, don’t force the child to eat it. Force-feeding is one of the top reasons mealtimes turn into battlegrounds. The goal is that children ought to be able to tell if they are full or hungry, and to eat according to their own body signals.
Tip #2 – Have a Variety of Foods, but not Cater to Short-Order
The foods served should be balanced and include a variety, including ‘comfort foods’ that your child likes. If mac-and-cheese is a favourite, it is ok to serve this alongside other dishes you’d like your child to try. However, do not give in to cooking something else when dinner is already served – it is very disruptive for the whole family.
Tip #3 – Involve the Child in Food Preparation
Whether adults or kids, we are all more likely to support something that we have invested time and are a part of. Similarly for meals, bring the child to grocery shopping, involve him/her in cutting vegetables, fruits, and find fun ways to incorporate the desired foods into the dish such as making pizza together.
Tip #4 – Be Realistic about Portion Size and Timing
Children have small stomachs and cannot be expected to eat a generous portion of everything all the time. Note your meal times and be sure that there are sufficient time between snacks and main meals. Be mindful of excessive fluid intake near mealtime. Also, if the child is unable to eat after an active time, move the activity time to another part of the day.
Tip #5 – Don’t Make a Big Deal
It is a tactic that works well if the child is not eating to gain attention. To realize that not eating certain foods will not get the parents’ attention nor have anyone to argue with, the child will not associate picky eating with a chance to gain power or control.
Tip #6 – Don’t Offer Dessert as a Bribe
There is nothing wrong with having dessert – however, when desserts become a bribe, it may lead to the child (i) thinking desserts are better than the main meal because it is a reward, (ii) not eating to get the reward and (iii) linking emotions to desserts. Desserts, if choose to be served, should be of small portion, at the end of the meal, regardless of how much the child has eaten.
Tip #7 – Offer new foods or new flavours
Serving foods of different taste or new foods make dinner a new experience. Sometimes parents who keep feeding the same foods wonder why the child stops eating – we wouldn’t want to eat the same thing every day either! Try spicing up foods or having new ways of preparing foods and do so not just for the child but for the whole family.
Tip #8 – Eat as a Family
Meals at home are to be taken together at the dining table. It is a time when the child can observe how the rest of the family eats, what foods are eaten and how each family member interacts with another and with their food – be sure to set a good example!
Picky eating may take some time to stop but persevere, particularly in serving healthy foods for the family to enjoy together.