Can You Reform a Picky Eater?
"I Don't Want to Eat That"
It's not something you want to hear the moment you sit down at the table. You're tired after a long day and preparing dinner. All you want to do is enjoy your food and your family with a relaxing and nutritious dinner.
Most parents are familiar with kids who refuse to eat or put up a fight eating their vegetables. Is it your fault? Are picky eaters born that way? Is it months and years of parental give-ins (Sigh, yes, you can have a sandwich instead.) that are shaping your child's eating habits?
Is It You Or Your Child?
If you're thinking, "well, I was a picky eater too and I turned out OK" have you already given up on reforming your child's eating habits?
Whether or not eating habits are inherited, you are the one buying and preparing the food on your family table. If you believe your chances of having healthy, well-rounded eaters is an unobtainable dream, then perhaps it is your attitude and habits that need to be reformed!
What Can You Do?
- Prepare Foods That YOU Like You've heard it before, if you make one thing they will eat that one thing. But we know from experience that it is not always the case! Strong willed children can say "No" to a plateful of food even with a empty grumbling stomach. Make what you want to eat. It's more fun to cook what you like, it will introduce your children to different foods and they will eventually learn that dinner is not hot dogs and chicken nuggets every night.
- Create Rules You are the boss of your family. Create mealtime rules that are firm but realistic and remind your children of those rules often. Every family member should use manners at the table: "Thank you for making dinner," and "Pass the bowl, please." Stay in your seat. Ask to be excused. Use kind words when seeing a food for the first time - words like "eww" and "gross" have no place at mealtime and should not be tolerated. One rule that is sure to start expanding your child's palate is to take a bite of everything. No child should be excused from the table until they have at least tried each food on their plate.
- Make It Fun Mealtime doesn't have to be somber and quiet. Engage in family discussions. Ask each person about something great - and something not-so-great - that happened in their day. Connect with each other. Make eye contact. Try to make mealtime more than just eating. Talk about where the food comes from and what nutrients our bodies are getting from it. If you feel yourself getting anxious because your youngest hasn't taken a single bite, take a deep breath and ask him or her what their favorite game or color is instead.
- Take One Meal at a Time Your picky eater will not start begging for broccoli and spinach tomorrow. Change takes time and patience. Not every meal will be eaten, but over time you will see the effect of the changes you are making.
- Keeping Trying Introduce foods that have been previously refused. If one child hates spinach, but you love it, you wouldn't stop making it. So as long as you are making it, and as long as it's part of dinner, keep offering it. And they should continue to "taste and try" if it's on their plate. They may hate it the first 30 times and they may even hate it forever. But you and they will never know unless you keep trying.
- Stay Firm! If you give in, you've given up. If reforming picky eaters was easy, you wouldn't be reading this. You are changing your lifestyle and creating a healthier one for your family. Remind yourself of the rules you've created as often as you remind your children.
What Else Can You Do?
- Have fun "kids meals" from time to time.
- Get your children involved in shopping for food and preparing meals.
- Take a hard look at what your kids are eating - snacking 30 minutes before dinner is not a good idea.
- Offer choices - "Which vegetable should we have tonight, carrots or celery sticks?"
- Keep it simple. Steamed or raw vegetables are quick to prepare. Introduce spices slowly.
- Be firm, but not mean. Mealtime should not involve yelling and crying. Forced eating will surely have the opposite effect of what you're looking to accomplish.
- Watch cooking shows together to get you and your kids excited about trying new recipes.
- Water is a great mealtime choice for drinks.
You Are Creating a Good Eater!
Healthy eating habits are something children will take with them for life. Do your part by creating mealtimes that are enjoyable and rewarding for everyone at your table.