Tips for Picky Eaters: Feeding Without Fighting
Are mealtimes a battle? Are you at your wit's end trying to get your picky eater to swallow the right kinds of foods? Do you find yourself wondering why all kids seem to gravitate toward those quintessential "kid foods," instead of enjoying what's good for them? Here are a few strategies for keeping yourself sane.
Tip # 1: Offer; Don't Beg
Be sure to prepare and offer new foods often, but don't beg your child to try them. Begging minimizes your power in the situation. Your place of power is that of a role model. Make sure your child sees you eating and enjoying the new foods, but don't try to 'sell' the new foods. If you sell it too hard, your child will see through it.
Refuse to get into a power struggle over food with your child. There are precious few things in the world that a young child can control, and one of those things is what goes into her mouth. Allow her this power, as it will deepen the bond of respect between you as parent and child. Your job is not to force or cajole, but to encourage healthy eating by example.
Tip #2: You Choose the Meal
Many parents ask their children what they would like to eat for dinner. Doing this has two disadvantages:
- Your child will feel that she has the right to dispute what is being offered for dinner on nights when you do not give her a choice.
- You may ultimately find yourself preparing a different meal for every person at the table.
Instead, design a meal that takes into account her likes and dislikes. Do not give in completely to her finickiness, but be sure to include at least one familiar and well-liked food with each meal.
Tip #3: Provide a Variety
The key to healthy eating is variety. Make meals as colorful and healthy as possible. Give a variety of options with each meal, such as a meat, a grain, and a couple of vegetables. Present new foods in fun, kid-sized bites whenever possible. Look for recipes designed for picky eaters, and incorporate some of the ideas into your cooking.
Make new foods visually attractive, as well as tasty. Add seasonings, and even some butter or small amounts of other fats. Good fiber doesn't need to taste like cardboard!
Tip #4: Get Sneaky
Pick up a book such as The Sneaky Chef by Missy Lapine or Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. These books have recipes and tips for sneaking healthy foods (such as sweet potato, spinach, cauliflower, and carrots) into the unhealthier kid-friendly stand-by's (such as macaroni and cheese, tuna sandwiches, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets). The idea is to slip similarly-colored and inconspicuously flavored purees into the sauces or mixes during the preparation process. You can do this with everything from pastas to puddings, and your kids will be none the wiser!
Tip #5: Keep Offering
You have one major advantage in this battle that your small child doesn't have: patience. Bide your time, don't show concern about her eating, and keep offering. Even if you're sneaking veggies into her food already, the important ultimate goal is to instill in her healthy eating habits for life. To accomplish that goal, you have to keep offering the nutritious foods. Your child may need ten to fifteen introductions to a new food before accepting it. To better your chances, vary the presentation of the food each time. For example, if your child turns her nose up at broccoli, try cutting it smaller and adding cheese sauce, or tossing it into a teriyaki stir-fry. Now that you know that repetitive introductions may be necessary, relax. Time is on your side.
Your child, with few exceptions, will not starve herself. She will eat. Don't show stress or frustration about her eating, because if you do, she will attempt to seize control. Let her feel comfortable eating what she wants to, when she wants to, within the scope of the meals and snacks you provide.
I am a mother, and not a doctor. This is parenting advice, not medical advice. If you have a concern for your child's health, please contact your pediatrician.
On a Related Note...
- Homemade Baby Food: A How-To Guide
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