You're in the kitchen preparing a delicious new recipe that you found on Pinterest. You're excited for the whole family to try it and love it. Experimenting with new recipes is one of your favorite explorations. Then dinner time comes. Most everyone in the family seems to enjoy this meal, except for your toddler. They start to cry and throw a fit, complaining that they don't like the food and don't want to finish eating.
What do you do?! I guarantee that most parents have dealt with this issue, whether it's with an infant, toddler, younger or older child, and even adolescents. Dr. William G. wrote a book titled Coping with a Picky Eater: A Guide for the Perplexed Parent. It offers wonderful insights as to how to approach the problem of picky eating. He shares 10 suggestions:
- Prepare meals with the four food groups. Your child needs to learn early on that eating foods with all varieties of nutrients is important for healthy growth and development. Start establishing this food rule early on in their life, and your child will learn to expect all four food groups on their plate.
- Do not customize meals for each child. Do not offer special requests for dinner if they don't like what's put in front of them. It is important to teach children that they can eat what their parents have prepared for them. In this area, you should not be too flexible.
- Start with small proportions of each food. Children will have a better sense of satisfaction when they finish their meal. And of course, building a child's self-esteem and value is always critical! Your child can always ask for more food later if they're still hungry.
- Do not force your child to eat. Forcing does nothing beneficial in teaching your child to enjoy their food. Parents can non-forcefully encourage their child to try at least one bit of their food. By doing this, you can be satisfied in knowing they were obedient and put forth some effort, and your child will be more willing to try it next time it's offered.
- Present one meal and one snack at a time. This ties in to tip #2. Your child will be more distracted from eating their meal when they're offered multiple choices. When you're offering a snack to your child, you can say, "Let's eat some carrots" instead of saying, "I have some carrots, celery, apple slices, and cheese slices. Which do you want to eat now?"
- Allow your child to go to bed without eating. This is really hard for a lot of parents. Some worry that their children are getting malnourished and will not sleep as well during the night. Breakfast is definitely the most important meal for children, followed by lunch, and then dinner. Dinner is least important because young children typically go to bed shortly after. Therefore, if they will not eat what's offered for dinner, feel good in knowing you're simply teaching them to eat what's offered and will not harm them.
- Do not give your child too many choices. This goes back to tip #5. Offering simpler, fewer choices to your child will teach them that they are in control of what they eat, and you get to control their choices. A great way of teaching autonomy.
- Make meal time enjoyable. Talk about daily events at the table. Get children involved in the conversation. Help them realize that meal time is a fun and social part of the day.
- Control and limit snacks and amounts of juice daily. Children do not need to be constantly grazing all day long, especially with sugary snacks like juice. Offering your child a larger proportioned snack fewer times during the day will keep their stomachs full and they won't feel the need to eat as often.
- It may take children 15-20 times exposed to new foods to acquire a taste for them. Even though kids won't eat the food in front of them, the food is becoming more familiar to them. Once it's familiar, they'll at least try a new food willingly. So give your child time and space to try it on their own!