We’ve all seen the child who makes meals out of bread and butter, doesn’t touch the Brussels sprouts and definitely isn’t a member of the clean plate club. If that’s your little one, here are some tips and tricks for changing mealtime from a power struggle to fun family time.
Bellevue Club’s registered dietitian, Wendy Caamano, MS, RD, CD, encourages parents to promote a positive relationship with food and provide options without forcing anything. Parents should be patient and understanding when introducing and reintroducing kids to food, knowing some days kids might be adventuresome while others they may eat only bread. Caamano likes to tell her parent clients to imagine being in a foreign country with food they have never seen or eaten before. Surely they would want to push the food around, play with it and taste it timidly before diving in. It’s the same with kids:
they need to be able to experiment with a new food before eating it.
Addressing Picky Eating
It’s important to have family meals that are a joy rather
than a chore. Keep meals
positive and don’t pressure kids to eat. Here are some tips for turning picky eaters into
• Have regular meals around the same time each day to provide structure.
• Provide kids with only water to drink between meals so they don’t fill up on juice and milk.
• Provide structured snacks so kids are hungry but not starved at mealtime.
• Respect your child’s appetite, or lack thereof. Don’t force a meal if he or she isn’t hungry.
• Serve small portions and let the child be the one to ask for more.
• Teach little ones to say “no, thank you” instead of “yuck.” Have consequences for bad table behavior.
• Have meals with something for everyone: pair unfamiliar with familiar food, not-yet-liked with liked foods. Don’t make special food just for the kids.
• Instead of offering meal alternatives like cereal or peanut butter, include one or two side-dish foods that your child usually eats, such as bread, fruit or milk. Let kids pick and choose from what is on the table, even if they eat bread and nothing else.
• Make mealtime fun with dipping sauces and vegetables cut into shapes.
• At the grocery store, try letting the kids pick out the vegetables for dinner.
• Offer kids choices for things that don’t matter as much to you, such as color of plate or place at the table.
• Give clear praise for trying something new, even if it’s only a bite. Avoid confusing phrases like “that makes me happy.” which can result in children thinking their eating habits somehow control your emotions.
And remember . . .
Picky eating is just another phase. Kids usually grow out of their picky habits as they get older, and there is no significant difference in the overall nutrition of picky eaters versus other kids. In the meantime, give your kids and yourself grace, and don’t compare yours to other families. The important thing is to model for kiddos that we are in control of the food we eat and that food is a good thing.
Sources: Ellyn Satter Institute, Mayo Clinic, parenting.com