All parents have had to face a picky eater at one time or another. They're the ones that whine "I don't like this" at every meal, throws a tantrum when they're not getting hot dogs, or just don't eat anything and go to bed hungry.
Thankfully, kids grow out of that stage by the time they're school age but until then, what can you do to ensure that your child get the nutrition that they need without driving you crazy?
1) Make Sure They're Not Sick
Kids are well known for not eating when they're sick. Check for a fever, sniffles, or an upset stomach before you start to worry. Most doctors will tell you that as long as the kids keep hydrated, a day of fasting or light eating when they're sick is not something to freak out about.
2) Make Sure They're Actually Hungry
Just like you, your kid's appetite will wax and wane throughout the week. Just because it's noon or you're hungry doesn't mean that Junior is going to be hungry too.
Kids come pre-programmed to eat when they're hungry and not eat when there are not hungry. Experts say that if you mess with this internal programming by making kids eat when they're not hungry, you could be laying the groundwork for later eating disorders. So, make sure that Junior is actually hungry before you make him eat that plate full of mac and cheese.
3) Make Sure They're Not Distracted
Help your kids focus on the task on hand – eating – by turning off all of the electronic devices including the TV and computer. Make it a rule that these devices can't come back on until the meal is done and dishes are on the kitchen counter.
4) Don't Make Mealtime A Power Struggle
The dinner table is meant to be a place of family fun, conversation, camaraderie, and values. This idea is undermined when you start using bribery, threats, yelling, and punishments to get your kids to clean their plate. This power struggle will only make your kids not want to eat even more and send you running from the house, pulling your hair out.
The best thing to do is to take a deep breath, realize that it won't hurt Junior if he misses a meal, and get on with your meal. Talk with your spouse, ask the kids about their day, discuss the weather and stay far, far away from talking about your kid eating or not eating his dinner. The less attention paid to his complaints, the better.
5) Enact A "No Snacks" Rule
If the "not hungry at meals" thing is becoming a habit, take a look at your child's snacking habits. Maybe he's gorging himself on cookies and chips an hour or two before your usual dinnertime. This is when it's best to enact a "no snacks after ___" rule on everyone in the house. This way, you can be guaranteed that everyone will be hungry when you serve dinner.
6) Stick To A Meal Schedule
Our crazy lives can send anyone's digestive system into chaos. When you spend Monday night at the soccer fields and pick up dinner from the drive-thru around 7 PM and then eat dinner at 5 PM on Tuesday, your kid's stomach starts to wonder what's going on with the food delivery system.
The best thing to do is set a meal schedule and stick with it. Serving meals and snacks on a schedule will train your kid's system when it's time to eat and when it's not.
7) Set A Good Example
It's important that you sit down with your kids and eat your dinner without any complaints or comments. This will serve as a good example to your kids - not only will they see that the meal is yummy but that you're willing to eat all sorts of food and lived through the experience.
8) Have Your Kids Help You
Most kids will be more willing to eat something if they've had a hand in fixing it. So, use your little helpers when you're choosing healthy foods at the store. They can hold the produce bags, count apples as you put them in the bag, and be sent to retrieve items that are down the aisle from where you're standing.
Once you're home, your kids can help you put things away and wash fruits and vegetables. At dinner time, younger kids can measure and pour stuff while older ones can slice produce and stir pots. It may be "taxing" to have a little helper under foot when you're trying to get a meal out fast but remember that the time you spend in the kitchen with them now will pay on in the future.
9) Stand Firm
Once you've fixed a meal and set it on the table, stand your ground. "This is what we're having for dinner. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it but you're not getting anything else or a bedtime snack." You may be their mom but that doesn't mean that you are your kids' personal short-order cook.