One of the most common struggles we face as parents is food. Whether it is desperately looking for healthy recipes your family will actually eat or laying the mom-guilt on yourself for allowing chicken nuggets again, we all stress about what and how much our children are eating. I don’t have a magic handbook that will solve all of your food concerns, but these tips should help your child to be a more confident eater.
Eat as a family. This one is first on the list because it is so, so important. Eating together at the table, without the distractions of toys or TV (or phones Mom and Dad!), is huge in healthy eating habits. Your kids watch you and learn from you all day long (proof is in the four letter word they just repeated), so it is key that they see you eat the same things they do. Foods aren’t so scary when everyone else is having the same things. Eating is also a social time. That’s why we love going out to dinner with friends! Enjoying conversation and time with each other while sharing a meal is a vital part of our culture that even our children will enjoy.
Routines and consistency really help. I know our lives are busy and sometimes it feels like our kids are snacking all day just to keep them happy on the go, but meals should be predictable. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a couple of snacks should come around the same time every day so your child knows if he doesn’t eat now, that’s it until the next meal. Try not to let your kiddo snack all day (and this includes nursing a cup of milk!) to really make the most out of the meals you do serve.
Serve kid-appropriate foods. No, I don’t mean chicken nuggets and mac & cheese. Food should be manageable for your child’s abilities. This might mean your taco night becomes a deconstructed taco of meat, cheese, beans, and avocado. Maybe cut big sandwiches in small triangles or strips. Soup can be served with a fork to stab the chunks and a straw to drink the liquid. Think of your child’s skill and serve the meal accordingly.
Get your child involved. I know, I know, cooking with kids takes an extreme amount of patience, but I swear your child will be a little more motivated to eat the meal if they helped during prep. Smelling, feeling, licking, looking, discussing… these actions help kids to explore their foods before faced with the daunting task of actually eating them.
Talk about the food. Kids have no idea what they are about to experience when told ‘Here, eat this, you’ll like it’. Nuh-uh, mom, I’m not buying that one. Instead, describe the food. For example, a carrot: “Sometimes we have a carrot in our soup. Then it is warm and squishy. Today we are eating it with hummus. The carrot is cold and crunchy. Listen, it breaks when I bite it with my teeth. Bite carrot. Wow, now it explodes in lots of little pieces. You have some carrots on your plate if you want to try”. I for one like to know what’s about to happen before a new experience; our kids are the same.
Take the pressure off. Try not to make eating such a big deal. Avoid bribes, punishments, and begging when it comes to food. I know how stressful it feels when your kid isn’t eating, after all, we all want our children to grow and be healthy. You would do anything to get them to eat just one bite of broccoli! That pressure to eat can make you child feel anxious about food, becoming even more reluctant to eat. To reduce your anxiety that they didn’t eat anything at a given meal, be sure to serve an always food (one they eat every time it’s on their plate), a sometimes food (depends on their mood and the alignment of the stars), and a never food (just keep presenting small bits, they might surprise you given enough exposure). This makes sure your little one eats at least something, but has the chance to try more without pressure.
Try, try, and try again. It takes more than one exposure to decide you hate something. Even if your child wouldn’t even look at the tomatoes you tried serving last week, keep offering them. Your child always has the option of saying ‘no thank you’, but one day they might just surprise you and give it a tiny nibble… or at least a sniff. Try not to say things like, ‘oh no, you don’t like this’ Instead, give specifics, like ‘this was a little spicy the last time you tried it, but you can give it a taste’ or just simply ‘sure, you can try it again’.
Overall, try not to stress! Keep doing your best and see if adding one (or all!) of these tips helps make eating a fun and healthy activity for the whole family.
Special thanks to Playgroups Chair, Sarah Barton, for sharing this post! Comment below with questions or any suggestions on how you got your picky eater to improve.