Parenting Picky Eaters!
Butter Spaghetti for Picky Eaters!
I am a parent of two picky eaters and I ask myself the reason why they are this way. I wonder about nature verses nurture and the role I played in forming my children’s eating habits. Were there negative behaviours that I encouraged, without even knowing it? I am certainly not a perfect parent so I would have to guess that nurture likely played a role. Science has already told us that nature can determine our tolerance for certain foods. These are situations that we often have no control over. If a child is allergic to peanuts, than that food needs to be avoided. On the other hand, the effects of nurture on a child’s eating habits are something that we can control. I look back at some of the errors I made, as a parent trying to raise healthy eaters, and wonder what I could have done differently.
When I first held my precious newborn in my arms, I remember the constant concern I had about whether he was hungry or not. From a very early age one of my strategies was to offer food, to see if hunger was the answer to any crying or fussing. Never did I leave the house without a suitcase of assorted snacks and drinks. I was always thrilled to find a new food my kids liked and would run to the grocery store eager to stock up. I soon realized, however, that providing unlimited access to favourite foods only worked to make them undesirable. Mealtime was often a challenge when my kids were younger. My job, I thought, was to make sure they got all the balanced nutrition their little growing bodies required...at every single meal! This concern, however, is one I believe helped to “nurture” my kids picky eating. I know I am not the only parent who has listened to their kids complain at dinner time, but I do wonder whether some of my parenting approaches to the complaining, managed to make my picky eaters even pickier!
One strategy I had was called the one bite try. I would attempt to get my kids to try at least one bite of their meal before they could have something different. Big mistake! You can probably guess, after just one bite, the next thing I got were yucky face expressions and more complaining. My response to this was to start a ritual of pulling out different fruits, vegetables, breads, etc. in an attempt to find something they would eat. In my mind, it was my job to ensure they ate a healthy meal (after all they couldn’t go to soccer hungry). Ultimately, dinner would turn into my kids telling me what they wanted to have. Yes, I would feel better after I got them to eat a decent meal, but when I think back, it would have been so much easier had they just eaten the healthy dinner I cooked in the first place!
This went on for years. It was usually my husband and I that ate one meal, while the kids ate different meals prepared especially for them. When I look back at the scenario, I think I must have been crazy, and believe I could have found better ways for dealing with dinner time. I recently learned from a friend, who also has a child that is a picky eater, a solution that makes a lot of sense. Allow the child to come back to their meal later, when they are finally hungry. So simple! After a reasonable attempt at eating what is offered, my wise friend would tell her child that their dinner will be waiting for them, when they were ready to eat it. Learning of this approach I realized that her method for dealing with a picky eater was definitely better than mine was. One thing I admired was how the child would come back to their dinner later on when they got hungry. Lucky for her we have microwaves. Also lucky was the fact she only had to prepare one meal.
I will say that I have wised up now that my children are teenagers. I am stepping back and I am letting them learn to cook for themselves. This does not mean I never make meals for them, it just means I am not bouncing around the kitchen trying to accommodate their every food preference. Fortunately, they are not as picky as they were when they were younger. I am hoping that any mistakes I may have made can be erased and my kids will go on to enjoy a life filled with rich food experiences. I mean, no body grows up not liking food, do they? But for now, I am still waiting for the day that they decided to put tomato sauce on pasta. They may still be limited in the food they eat, but fortunately, I no longer worry about whether they are eating enough...my food bill won’t let me! I just continue to wonder whether my parenting methods, for feeding my kids when they were young, are the reason they... still only like butter on their spaghetti!
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