Do you have a picky eater? Are you constantly pleading and arguing with your child to eat something? Meal time power struggles are stressful and it can cause serious anxiety for us as parents. If meal times at your home are not a relaxing and enjoyable time of day because you’ve got a picky eater, we’ve got some tips to help with that dreaded meal time power struggle.
With our years of experience with many, many children, we have discovered that a majority of children will only eat one big meal a day. Most of the children in our care have always eaten a big breakfast or lunch and hardly any dinner. It is very common for them to have one big meal and two smaller meals throughout the day. Keeping that in mind may help ease the stress.
Tip #1 – Put yourself in their shoes. Think about how you feel when someone makes a plate for you and puts way too much on it expecting you to finish it all.
Set them up for success by filling their plates appropriately. Putting too much can be overwhelming for kids causing them to shut down and they many not even want to eat any of it. Instead, start with a smaller portion of food that their small stomachs can handle.
Tip #2 – Children’s stomachs are a lot smaller than we think. You would be surprised at how much food they actually need to sustain themselves.
Our children have the same internal voice as we do that tells us when our stomach is full. Teaching them to listen to that voice is far more important than the 2 or 3 bites you may sneak into them. Forcing them to finish the whole plate when they may not be hungry can lead to them ignoring their internal voice to finish those last two bites when they are already full or to eat when they aren’t hungry. Children will not starve themselves. Their appetites and their taste in food can change from day to day and from week to week. Try not to focus on them finishing their whole plates. Rather, focus on the fact that they have at least tried a few bites of each food.
Tip #3 – Don’t allow the cycle of picking eating to continue! You are not a restaurant! Although you may be concerned that your child is not eating, making a second, third or fourth meal for them will not guarantee they will eat.
Mealtime battles can quickly become a power struggle, an hour long battle of wills. Children have very little control of their day, but deciding what they will and will not eat is something they have full control of. Making a big deal out of a skipped meal or smaller than usual meal can actually perpetuate the struggle. It may take practice but making the amount of food consumed a non-issue will keep it a non-issue and will eliminate the mealtime stress!
Tip #4- Try and impress them at least twice a week by making a scene with their food.
Encouraging your child to eat healthy foods can be somewhat of a challenge! Think about how you feel when you get to try a variety of hors d’oeuvres at a restaurant or see a gorgeous platter at a party. Make mealtime fun by jazzing up some of their meals with that in mind.
You can fill an empty ice cube tray with small portions of different options of food so that they are presented with a variety of foods and they can choose what they would like to taste. Or make a butterfly sandwich, a stick person out of carrots and dip, a caterpillar out of bananas and pretzels, ants on a log with celery etc. Don’t be afraid to play with their food!
Tip #5 – It can take children 10 times of trying something before they can definitively say they do not like it.
Just because your child didn’t like a food the first time you offered it, doesn’t mean they will never eat it! A great way to encourage your child to taste and eventually like a new food is to do the 10 times challenge. Create a chart that lists all of the foods your child refuses to eat with enough space for 10 squares beside it. Each time your child tastes, takes a bite of or eats that specific food, they can check off a box. The more toddlers see food, the more likely they are to try it so if you are introducing a new fruit, offer that fruit at breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a few days. No pressure, just there so that he gets comfortable seeing it over and over again.
Tip #6 – Be mindful of what time they are having their afternoon snack. If the snack is too big or too close to dinner, your child may genuinely not be hungry.
Schedules and routines are not just for sleep! In order for your children to be hungry at meal times, it is important to try and schedule snacks and meals at approximately the same times every day. This will allow your child’s stomach to feel hungry and ready to eat. Avoid having your child snack all day long as this can cause them to never be hungry enough to eat a full meal. It is best if water is served in between meals to avoid having them fill up on milk or juice causing them to be full during mealtimes.
Tip# 7- Practice what you preach! Keep the scrunched up and grossed out faces internal so that your children cannot see!
Your children are watching you. If you refuse to eat certain foods or voice your opinion on them, your children will be a lot less likely to try them and like them. Even if you are not fond of the foods, make the effort to try them while your children are around.
We hope these 7 tips will help you and your picky eater enjoy a more relaxed and happy meal together.
Please note: Although most children will continue to thrive despite their picky eating, if you feel that your child is not getting enough nutrition, is losing weight, or is complaining of stomach pain, please consult your doctor or health care professional. They will be able to ensure that your child is given the proper care and attention needed.