It’s dinner time. Mom is feeling tense. “Are we going to have our nightly battle with Jeffrey and food again? Maybe this time he will eat something other than chicken nuggets and macaroni.”

Jeffrey demands his “usual” and the battle is on. Mom cajoles and bribes him to eat something else to no avail. She feels obligated to make him something different than the rest of family. After all, he has to eat something. He can’t go to bed hungry.

Food issues with kids are tough—no doubt about it. Let’s set the record straight. If you have a picky eater, you are not a bad parent. Parents who feed their kids Capri Suns (like they are water), Doritos, Chips Ahoy or the same three foods over and over again love their children just as much as I do. We know innately, though, that picky eating is unhealthy and not the best for our kids.

We certainly don’t want to digress to the days of making children sit for hours in front of plate of Brussels sprouts or demand that they “clean their plates” because of starving orphans in outer Mongolia. On the other hand, we don’t want to deprive our children of life-giving, brain enhancing phytonutrients, and create social problems and a bad relationship with food either. I know all of us moms long for balance in this area.

The following advice is good for all parents whether you have a picky eater or not—most of us do to some degree. Picky eating is a complicated problem, but it is one that can be overcome with good old-fashioned perseverance and wisdom. Let’s first cover why it’s so important for your child to enjoy all types of foods:

  1. Consider what kids need and not just what they want. When my older ones were little, they could have grown sweaters on their teeth before they felt compelled to brush them. My almost three year old would love to run into a busy street. Children don’t necessarily know instinctively what’s good for them. That’s why our job as a parent and mom is so important. Children will never learn to eat a wide variety of foods, if you allow them to pick everything they eat. We’ll cover more on this later.
  2. Children miss out on important nutrients when their food choices are limited. A child who restricts themselves to eating an empty-calorie, low-nutrient diet (goldfish, pasta, bread, cereal, yogurt—the “white” diet) will not enjoy optimal development and health.  This is what I’ve observed about the “white diet” picky ones: Lack of energy or hyperactivity (I’ve seen more lethargy), moodiness, irritability, poor sleep, and failure to meet their cognitive and physical potential. I know this is not pretty, but it’s true nevertheless. The good news is, mom, you can change it.
  3. Realize that nutrition is a powerful resource for us (remember the O2 mask, mom) and our children. Nutrition helps us feel better, get sick less often, achieve better moods, think clearer, possess more energy and the list goes on and on. Keep this thought firmly entrenched in your mind as you soldier on to overcome pickiness (maybe in yourself as well).

Savvy pediatricians know the importance of getting adequate nutrients into a child’s diet. Some docs, though, only look to see if the child falls on the right place on the growth curve. This is not the best indicator of nutritional status.

According to 2009 statistical data, fewer than 10 percent of children ages 4-13 meet the government requirements for consumption of fruits and vegetables. These requirements are not there to make our lives more difficult, but to protect and enhance the health of our children.

Here are practical ways to help your child overcome pickiness:

Start with your eating habits.

Ouch. Remember, Jesus said you still have to love me. Do you enjoy eating and have a good relationship with food? Are you afraid or adverse to trying new foods? None of us are perfect eaters, but our children pick up their eating cues from us. When they see their parents eating a variety of foods, they are more inclined to do so.

Children imitate what they see.

If parents want their children to eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk, then they need to do so also. Remember, to nix perfectionism. It’s okay for your kid to see you eat an occasional treat. It gets tricky when the other parent doesn’t eat many of the desirable foods, so it is wise to get them on board ahead of time.

Take control.

Most children (especially young children eight and below) cannot be left to decide the composition of their diets. Some experts say that most picky eaters are made not born. The reason; parents care more that the child eats than what they eat. (Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not the expert)

Most parents don’t allow their children to pick their bedtime, whether they feel like going to school or not, or anything they want to watch on TV, so why would parents not pick the food the child eats? We are raising a generation of food prima donnas by allowing children to have all the say in what they will eat.

Parents are responsible for what the child eats, when the child eats and where. Children can choose whether they eat the food and how much they will eat.

Provide regular, consistent meals and snacks—every 2-3 hours is best.

Grazing is out. Kids like consistency and providing it through meals and snacks is one way to overcome pickiness and create a good relationship with food.

Meals should not be restricted to foods they will readily accept with mom hovering over to make foods that are specially prepared for that child. Don’t do it mom, or you’ll be singing the picky child blues.

There is a lot more I want to say, but this blog post may turn into a book if I’m not careful. Look for Part 2 of Picky Eating for what you as a mom can do to overcome the picky eating conundrum. There is hope!

Lindy Ford‘s passion is to encourage women to live in spiritual, emotional and physical freedom. This desire came out of her own pain in every one of these areas. Lindy turned the incredible lessons God taught her into a Bible study for women called, From Busy to a Beautiful Life.

Our guest contributor, Lindy Ford, is a nutrition and wellness coach with a BS in Dietetics/Nutritional Science from the University of Maryland and speaks extensively on the subjects of wellness, stress, and nutrition. Lindy loves to equip busy moms with strategies to make healthier choices for their families and themselves. She is married to Bryan, a former widower and the best builder/contractor that ever lived. Five children make up their blended family—teenagers to a cute toddler named Piper who is trying to pound on her keyboard right now.