Picky Eating: What’s a Mom To Do? (Part Two)
If you missed Part 1, you can catch up with Picky Eating: What’s a Mom to do? Part 1. It helps you understand the importance of being strong and yes, even courageous, mom, about helping your child overcome their pickiness. Here are some more tips to think through:
1. Consider regular family dinner times. I may start a personal crusade on this. I understand tricky schedules, but you will never regret making this decision. If regular meals are a weak spot in your family, make it a goal to increase the number of times each week. If you are doing one dinner a week, increase it to three. If you’re doing two … you get the picture. The positive benefits are numerous—they are not all nutritional. Make meal times as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.
2. Don’t be overbearing with food. Allow the child to determine how much and whether they will eat the food provided. At family meals offer three to four different options and at least one that the picky eater will eat. Do this without offering the same food night after night (you shouldn’t be serving mac and cheese five nights a week). The food should be something the rest of the family eats and shouldn’t be offered more than two nights a week. They can determine how much and what they want, but the child can’t attack or raid the fridge or pantry afterwards. Foodville is over until the next meal or snack (which is the parent’s decision and should be at least two hours away).
3. Be calm about food. If you don’t like a particular food item, don’t make a big deal about it. Allow your children to see you enjoying your food. Don’t make a big deal about their pickiness by worrying or fretting.
4. Don’t become a special order cook. You wear enough hats and this shouldn’t be one of them. You need to take control of what is put in front of the child. At dinner time, there should be no special food made that the rest of the family is not also eating. Be strong on this one, dear mom. Special order cooking is the best way to train a child to be picky.
5. Start early. I know this doesn’t thrill you moms who have a picky 10-year-old. It’s never too late, but the earlier you get your little one to eat a variety of foods, the easier time you will have later. As soon as solids are started, try feeding a variety of foods and not the same things day in and day out. Avoid constantly handing your baby or toddler goldfish and teddy grahams. Just a warning, I have seen adventuresome toddlers turn into picky 2-year-olds seemingly overnight. Just keep offering a wide variety and don’t give up.
6. Teach children to be polite. Make it a strict policy in your home that it’s okay not to like a particular food, but food feelings and negative talk about food are to be kept to oneself. If someone doesn’t like something, the appropriate response is, “No, thank you.”
7. Don’t worry about starvation—it won’t happen. This advice comes from a pediatric dietitian in a children’s hospital. The kids will survive and are fine.
Hunger can be a good thing. So often our children don’t get the natural desire to eat because they’ve been grazing (oftentimes on the empty white stuff) and their bodies are seldom allowed to get hungry—we sabotage their hunger. When your 6-year-old comes to you and says (because you offered them lunch and they wouldn’t eat or didn’t eat enough), “I’m soooo hungry,” be strong dear mom. Don’t get emotionally involved–kids know how to get to us. I had one kid dramatically drop to the floor one time because he had to wait to eat. I got over it and he is still alive.
Mean what you say and tell them they can have a snack (that you choose) in two or three hours. Then distract them by doing something else. This may take time, but if you stick with your resolve to have a competent eater, refuse to get emotional or give in, your child will eventually get it.
8. Don’t call your child picky or finicky (at least not where he can hear). Children often live up to the labels parents give them. Instead, reassure them that they are adventuresome and daring and by the way, that goes for food.
9. Be a wise gatekeeper. Don’t allow undesirable foods to magically creep into your home. OK, that may be a little unrealistic, but you get my wavelength. It’s a lot easier to say no when the Oreo isn’t in the house. Of course, we sometimes have “special occasion” foods (as I like to call them) around, but for Pete’s sake, if you are dealing with food issues or you have an uncooperative spouse, hide them!
Don’t justify the bad stuff by saying, “I just want him to eat something.” Sometimes moms use this defense to justify a diet of junk food.
As much as you can, offer kids real foods instead of the empty calorie stuff. Kids love (or can learn to love) snacks like, peanut butter and celery, apples with cheese sticks, grapes, dried fruit, squeezy 100 pecent apple sauce, carrot sticks with hummus and whole grain crackers with whipped cream cheese. I’m not a great lover of most yogurt (it is a disguised dessert), but once in awhile is OK.
10. Don’t expose kids to the same foods over and over. Food habits become ingrained and then variety flies out the window. Let your kid see you willing to experiment with tasting and perhaps enjoying new foods. Even if it’s not necessarily a new food, change up the menu. For example, peanut butter and jelly on whole grain is not a bad choice, but having it every day for lunch doesn’t set the stage for food adventure.
11. Have the picky eater try one bite of a new food (a veggie would be great), every day for two weeks (or go three if that doesn’t work). They may gag, they may make faces, they may get really dramatic, but don’t give up. Our taste-buds are trained, not set in stone.
12. Take them to the grocery store to pick up a new healthy food that they’ve never tried. Have them help you cut it up and prepare it if they are old enough.
13. Persevere. Disney World wasn’t built in a day. This may take weeks or even months. Just know it will take time to establish new habits and banish old ones.
Mom, you are the parent and, in most households, the one who is the strongest gatekeeper to the food supply. Keep the goal firmly in your mind—a healthy kid living up to their potential who has a great relationship with food. We’ve all met picky adults and it isn’t pretty. Kids are resilient and pliable, but they can get stuck in a food rut quickly. Prevention is always best, but if you are the mom to a picky one (or more), know that your resolve to help your child out of pickiness will eventually be rewarded. The goal is worth it!
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.
She 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.
This is a great atricle. We have 4 foster boys, 2 of which only eat a white diet. We have evolved to doing most of what you suggest. The only thing that does not work is #11″take one bite of a new food”. That is when meal time turns into a battle. They will not eat any vegetables or fruit.
I would appreciate any suggestions!
Back off from “you must take a bite” to “it just has to be on your plate.” Making a child eat something is often a battle that can’t be won and becomes counterproductive. But like the article says, you can control what is offered. And remember that for foster children, there is a lot in their lives they can’t control, so if familiar food is a comfort to them, you may decide to serve them a few things you would not choose under other circumstances.
Also, kids with special needs can present a different ballgame altogether, and any eating problems should be addressed with their pediatrician or specialist’s guidance. Thanks for the great tips, Lindy!
I’ve applied a lot of these ideas in my household. In our situation with food allergies, texture issues, and autism, we have a lot of challenges, but I try to offer a variety of foods and to control snacks/what I bring into the house. I’m hoping slow and steady is the way to stay in the race. We’ve also done food therapy and will probably do this again at some point.