Everybody says that a child needs to eat for proper growth and development, and yes, it is entirely correct. However, as a parent, you may have a child who has finicky food preferences. Anytime that you prepare a meal that you think that the child will like, you are slapped with flimsy excuses like the food is too plain or it has funny, dark spots. Many times, the plate is left untouched, and the child will not eat without you being stern and firm.
If this is your constant struggle, you are not alone. So many parents have to worry about their picky eaters. Before discussing some of the strategies to tackle these mealtime battles, let us see why children develop picky eating habits.
◆ You force the child to eat
◆ Some kids are genetically overly sensitive to taste, smell and texture of food
◆ You too are picky about foods
◆ You are afraid of saying NO to junk food and sweet tooth treats
◆ The child wants to feed themselves, and you are not letting them do it
◆ The child does not like sitting for too long and thus prefers playing over mealtime
◆ Could be a medical condition causing slow digestion of specific foods
So, what can you do about it?
Table of Contents
1. Provide A Wide Range of Foods
Many times as a parent you are reminded to be in touch with your expectations and make them realistic. It is unrealistic to expect a child to enjoy the same mashed meal day in day out. When you are preparing your meals, most likely you provide various dishes and go an extra mile to research on recipes that the family will enjoy, right? It is the same thing for a child. They like a variety of not only food but also other items around them. Keep on introducing new foods as you track sensitivities. Sometimes you may have to present a specific food for about 10 to 15 times before the child likes it. So, do not give up after some few trials.
When introducing new foods or encouraging the child to eat something that they do not like, gently do it by putting the foods next to those that they already like. You can also use healthy and exciting dips like yogurt, hummus, and soups when introducing various vegetables and fruits.
The rule of eating a variety of healthy foods applies to you and the rest of the family members as well- you need to lead by example. Avoid showing disgust or disinterest no matter how you dislike a particular type of food or else the child will pick the same behavior.
2. Involve The Child in Preparing The Meals
Involving the child from grocery shopping, meal planning to preparing a dish not only helps them to increase interest in food but also to learn life skills. Furthermore, you create family bonds and memories while teaching healthy habits. When shopping, teach the child different food groups and how to differentiate good and bad quality products. For meal planning, give the child options of choosing what they would like to eat on certain days. Provide interesting magazines, websites and child-friendly cookbooks with pictures and simple instructions, to give the child some ideas.
During meal preparation, let the child explore each food by smelling, touching or even dropping to a bowl. For younger children, do not let them handle sharp utensils, fire sources or hot food.
Sometimes a child may be picky because you insist on feeding them when they don’t want to be fed. Self-feeding especially for young children may be quite messy, but why not try it if it is the only thing that will make the child eat?
For younger children, offer safe finger foods that the child can feed themselves without chocking. If the food needs a spoon, help the child hold the spoon without letting them feel like they are out of control. If the child wants specific foods placed on a particular part of the plate, let them do it. If old enough, the child can serve themselves, but with your supervision.
4. Eat Meals Together
If possible, take meals as a family. Turn off all electronic devices that may deviate the child’s attention or any other family member. This encourages mindful eating as the child also learns to listen to their hunger cues. It may be very tempting let the kids watch tv as you respond to messages or work late, but think about the positive eating habits, bonds, and memories that you will be creating.
When eating together, encourage other family members to always talk positively about food. Start a discussion on the food’s texture, flavor, health benefits and colors. This could also be a time to teach the child on counting, identifying shapes and colors.
5. The Plates Do Not Have to Be Empty
Children continuously grow new taste buds almost every two weeks. That means that a child may not like the taste of a particular food but the following week, the plate could be empty as they develop a liking. Moreover, the stomach of a child is only as large as their clenched fist.
Therefore, do not force the child to wipe the plate clean. You already know anytime that you try to force the child to do something, you put up yourself for a power struggle. So, instead of making every mealtime a miserable experience, let the child eat what they can.
Make sure that you spread the meals throughout the day so that the child will neither remain hungry nor be full during main meal times.
6. Get Medical Evaluation
If nothing else works and you are concerned about your child’s growth and development, then it is best to consult your child’s pediatrician. A food log together with the child’s growth and development chart will help both you and the doctor to investigate the underlying problems. If not checked, the child can develop nutritional deficiencies and food allergies if they are not already present. And watch the video about tips for dealing with picker eaters.