As we place their plate on the table we can feel our stomach sink and our anxiety rise. Will they eat this? Did I prepare it the way they like? Is this going to be another fight? So many things run through our minds before we call them down for dinner. Instead we should be asking ourselves; Did I provide my child with a portion size that won’t intimidate them? Is there a variety of foods on their plate for them to choose from? Will I be able to give up control and let them guide themselves through meal time? Too often, parents are the ones making meal time unnecessarily stressful. Picky eating can become worse the more a parent demands or places restrictions on meal time.
Here are 5 tips that will ease meal time stress and empower you child to make healthy choices:
Keep reintroducing foods - If your child rejects a certain food on their plate, don’t fret! If you turn it into a fight or state that the child will not receive a reward or dessert until they consume that food, they will learn to associate that food with a bad experience. So, remain calm and nonchalantly add it to their plate the next time. Scientists have stated that it can take anywhere from 8-15 times of introducing a food for a child to even try it.
Model healthy habits - Your kids watch you! Just like they pick up and repeat everything we say (usually the bad words haha) they will pick up and follow our lead in the kitchen. Show them that you care about your body and mind and are choosing to fuel it with nutrition foods. Also show them that it is ok to have treats from time to time but it is something that should be limited. As we grow up (especially for me now) we start to notice some of our parents mannerisms in the things we do. So just like hand gestures and specific phrases, make healthy choices one of those habitual things your child will do as they grow up.
Involve your kids in the process - Wether you go to the grocery store or harvest veggies from your garden, get your children to help. I know sometimes it can be frustrating and we can feel impatient at these times but take a deep breath and let them help you! Talk about the things you are buying and picking and what they can do for our bodies and minds. When it comes to meal prep, give them small tasks (like washing vegetables, tearing lettuce, or plating food) that will make them take pride in the meal being prepared. Kids are more likely to explore food at this time (especially if you tell them not to haha). They might want to sample the vegetables they are chopping. The more they have a hand in the process, the more likely they will be to enjoy the meal when it is placed on the table.
Make meal time fun - Leave your anxiety in the kitchen as you walk to the dinner table. Make the conversation light and fun and don’t put pressure on your picky eater to clean their plate. Turn things into a competition, play eye spy with items on their plate and when they guess them correctly they get to choose who in the family eats it. There are so many things you can do to make meal time more enjoyable for everyone. Add (yes, add) a small treat to their plate and even let them eat it first. That takes away the ‘reward and punishment’ strategies and makes meal times more open and less stressful.
GIVE UP CONTROL! - All their little, developing minds want is control! They want to control what they wear, who they play with, what time they go to bed (eye roll)! They are asserting their independence and we need to allow this at meal time. If your child comes down the stairs in the morning in the most ridiculous outfit with shoes on the wrong feet and states how good they feel, do you crush their independence and tell them they look silly? Probably not. So when it comes to meal time try to give them that same control. You put the food on their plate and they get to decide when they are full. And if they constantly keep leaving out their vegetables or a certain food you want them to consume, just smile and reintroduce it at the next meal.
So, do your best to stop demanding, punishing and rewarding at meal time. Remember these 5 tips and your picky eater will be a slightly less picky eater in no time :)