Dealing with a Child Who Is a Picky Eater
If you end up with a child who is a picky eater, you can put to work some important tactics as you continue to feed and work with your finicky child. In fact, dealing with selective eaters can be frustrating, and parents often make situations worse by letting their emotions get in the mix.
The key tactic to managing a picky eater is consistency. Don't give up or give in. A consistent mealtime offers your child three healthy meals a day and healthy snacks in between. Offer a variety of foods, and don't allow your little beggars to panhandle for snacks between meals, either. Also, keep the milk and juice in check, and serve water occasionally.
Your child won't starve to death. Just because she's picky, don't feel like you have to throw organization and nutrition to the wind just to get her to eat. Be consistent and firm, and don't force the issue. She'll eat when she's hungry.
Defuse the stress
A finicky eater can be stressful for you and the rest of the family. That stress and aggravation can end up making mealtime a war zone, and your stress can actually make the problem much worse. In fact, your reactions can make your picky eater even pickier!
As you work with your kid, it's important to remember that you're not alone, and pickiness is actually common in children. With this in mind, don't take a food protest as a personal attack against your cooking. Instead of letting mealtimes stress you out, just do your best and move on — tomorrow is another day.
Parents often make mealtime stressful for their children by putting too much food on their plates. Keep portion sizes small to diffuse your child's stress — he can always have more.
Mix it up
As you're working with your picky eater, you may fall into the routine of letting your child eat whatever he'll eat for the sake of simplicity and your sanity. In the end, though, this form of nourishment isn't a good tactic. This behavior produces an older child that automatically rejects any new foods and continues to be picky. Avoid planning meals based on what your picky child eats. This tactic decreases variety and the rest of the family ends up resenting having to eat only what the picky one eats.
Keep varying the meals and encouraging good eating behavior. Encourage your kids to try new things. Sure, sometimes they'll complain, and sometimes they'll gag, but they'll be comfortable with trying new foods. And you can nurture adventurous kids too! If your child doesn't like it, no big deal. You don't want to end up with children who eat only five things.
Serve meals away from the table
If eating is a problem, then your child may associate the kitchen table with negativity. This is the time to shake things up and get away from the kitchen table:
- Plan a backyard picnic.
- Have a "tea party" (with real mealtime food) in your child's bedroom.
- Play restaurant — move the meal to another area of the house and pretend like you're eating out. Have your toddler help out as a waiter!
Use the kitchen table for activities other than cooking. Let your child work with molding clay or other craft projects. By putting this tactic to work in your home, having craft time at the same table at which you eat may lessen the opposition.
Avoid disciplining behavior
One of the worst mistakes to make is allowing the kitchen table to become a place of discipline, criticism, or arguing. As frustrating as your child's defiance to food can be, avoid using discipline, and never force-feed — this is dangerous due to the choking hazard and results in more eating problems later.
Instead of focusing on discipline, try these tips at the dinner table:
- Reinforce table manners with your behavior. Lead by example.
- Focus your child on eating, but talk about other things at the table as well. Conversation defuses the attention away from the food. Tell little Becky what foods she's eating, but don't talk about food after that. Avoid comments such as "Look, mommy likes it," or "Don't you want to be strong like daddy?" These comments only add to the stress of the situation and don't help the picky eater.
- Remove the plate if your child simply refuses to eat, but don't allow him to leave the table until everyone else is finished, and don't give him a snack within the next hour. Keep the same meal and snack schedule whether your toddler eats. Children may manipulate dinner situations if you allow them to skip meals but eat a snack afterward.
- Never, ever bribe your child to eat one food based on a reward for another food (such as something sweet). This reward pattern begins a lifelong struggle with sweets, which can lead to weight and health problems.