Hello, everyone! We’re currently on vacation, hanging out at beautiful Lake Tahoe and getting ready for a wedding in the family (again. My kids are pros at this now. They could flower-girl and ring-bear for a living. But we love it every time, and at least one of my girls is delighted that each occasion requires its own new dress.)
So I’m excited to introduce Dr. Orlena Kerek, a pediatrician whose passion is helping kids develop healthy eating habits. She’s written a book about it, and is sharing some great advice here:
Having a picky eater in the family can be really tough. It’s tough for parents and it’s tough for children. Parents try hard to feed them what they like whilst still providing a healthy diet. Children are miserable as they feel pressured into eating food that they don’t like. More often than not meal times turn into a battle field rather than a peaceful family experience.
It is tough dealing with a picky eater but it is possible to restore peace to the family dinner table.
The best way to deal with a picky eater is with patience and persistence.
Variety is the spice of life. More importantly, the more variety your children eat, the more likely they are to eat and try new foods. It’s really important to keep offering them new foods rather than allow them to always eat the same old favourites.
It doesn’t matter if they don’t try the new food. Chances are that they won’t like it even if they do. It takes time to get used to new things and before that it’s automatically rejected as ‘unknown’. On the other hand, if you don’t even offer it, they definitely won’t try it.
Be patient and persistent. You don’t have to offer new food at every meal time, but do it frequently.
Parents often pressure their children to eat. Often they don’t even realise that they’re doing it.
It’s important not to pressure your children to eat food. They need to feel in control of what they eat. No one likes to be coerced into doing things, not even kids. That means no bribery, no “just one more bite” no “you can have pudding when you’ve finished your veggies”. Allow them to decide what they want to eat.
OFFER HEALTHY FOOD
If you offer healthy food, they can only choose from healthy food. Have regular eating times when healthy food is available. An example would be breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner. If they don’t like what is on offer or don’t want to eat, that’s fine. There will be another healthy eating opportunity around the corner. You decide what you’re going to offer. Don’t be persuaded into giving cookies if you’ve chosen yogurt and fruit.
Treats are fine in moderation but moderation is the key.
Moderate hunger is not to be feared. It’s important not to teach our children to over eat.
GIVE THEM CONTROL
You don’t have to give them total control, but you can give them some control. You can offer choices between things. Or you can allow them to choose dinner one night a week.
You can take them shopping and let them choose some new vegetables. Or the fish from the fish counter.
You can get them to cook, not just help you but they decide what you’re going to cook. It’s their meal. (We do this once a month and my ‘picky eater’ loves it. So far he’s made Spanish chicken with green peppers that he won’t normally eat and vindaloo, chillies and all.)
DON’T CALL THEM FUSSY OR PICKY
I know it’s difficult, but every time you call them picky or fussy (even just to yourself) you are reinforcing that behaviour. You are teaching your children to act in that way and you are teaching yourself to see that behaviour.
Whatever you decide to do, allowing them some control will reduce the stress at dinner time.
Stick to these simple rules and you’ll soon find joy will return to your family meals. By the way, the majority of children grow out of picky eating by the age of 8. So, hang in there and keep offering them healthy food without any pressure.
Orlena is a paediatric doctor, mother of four young children and founder of the Healthy Eating for Children Course. She writes about developing healthy habits in children and has recently published her debut book “Crunch! Put a Stop to Picky Eating and Teach Your Kids to Love Veggies.”