Almost every parent has at least one child who is a picky eater. It is the bane of a mother’s existence, as she is the one primarily responsible for getting the food into her child. Battles over what to eat for breakfast, what to pack in the lunchbox and what is served for dinner can make meal time a miserable experience for all involved.
Children do not become picky eaters overnight. Many children start off as good eaters, then during the toddler stage, between ages one and three, they become particular about what they put into their mouths. This is all part of being a toddler. Their growth slows, so they eat less. Toddlers are busy exploring the world and do not and to sit for elongated periods of time to eat. All of this is a normal developmental part of a child’s growth.
But what tends to happen is that parents continue to serve the same five foods their toddler will eat well into the preschool stage and beyond. This is where the problem becomes embedded and is hard to change.
There are children who are picky eaters because of medical issues. For example, children who have Sensory Integration Dysfunction are very sensitive to certain textures. Certain kinds of foods are not tolerated. These children are not being picky to be obstinate. This is a medical condition and is something they cannot help.
Picky Eaters in the Past
Were children picky eaters in the past? They were, but parents handled it differently. Mom and Dad did not cave to their child’s desires an heat up some chicken nuggets. The child had to eat what was served or go hungry. After a few times of going hungry a few times, children ate what was served, whether they liked it or not.
Can you imagine children who lived during the Great Depression complaining about what food was served for dinner? Or children who grew up in colonial or pioneer times telling their parents that they would not eat what was prepared?
What do you think happened to those children who refused to eat?
How to Prevent Having a Picky Eater
Everyone is entitled to have personal likes and dislikes when it comes to food, and that includes children. Think about the foods you would not touch as a child, but now eat as an adult. Our palates do change as we mature.
One of the biggest problems parents face when having a picky eater is themselves. At the end of a long day, parents do not want to do battle with a tired and cranky child. Who wants to fight over eating broccoli? It is so much easier to serve only what your child eats and gain the peace you seek while you eat.
There are two things wrong with this scenario. First, you are putting your child in charge of his diet, your grocery list, your meal preparation. No healthy child should wield that much power and control over an adult decision.
The second problem is that this is encouraging this unacceptable behavior. Children will be exposed to new foods when they go to the homes of others. Chances are that the host will not be offering your child a menu of his own.
Here are some suggestions for overcoming picky eaters.
Start With Healthy Food Choices While They Are Young
If your child eats white bread instead of whole grain wheat bread as a first food, what do you think she will prefer? As the parent, you need to make healthy choices for yourself that you can pass onto your child.
If you only have junk food available for children to snack on, that is what they will eat. Instead of offering a nonstop assortment of cookies and chips, offer bowls of fresh fruit. If it is a younger child, then cut up the fruit into bite sized chunks.
Children love to dip fruits and vegetables. Buy or make a healthy dip for them to eat their platter.
It’s okay to serve chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for dinner, but not every night! And if you do serve it, make sure it is all natural or organic so there are no bad preservatives or food colorings being ingested.
Be a Role Model
You are your child’s first and best role model. If your son or daughter sees you eating a healthy snack, they will want to join you. If they see you eating Doritos for a snack, how are you going to convince them to eat their carrots as their snack?
Present the food choices as a “grown-up food”. Make it seems like a treat to be able to eat it. Kids want to be grown up, so use this tactic to get them to try something new.
Eat How Old You Are
I have to thank Leanne Ely for this tip that I used with my own picky eater. Leanne is the author of Saving Dinner and has a website of the same name. I once heard her speak and she suggested that your child needs to eat as many bites of the “offensive” food as their age. If your four year old does not like the chicken you cooked, that is okay. She must eat four bites, and it can be soaked in ketchup if necessary. The point is that the child ate what you served.
Serve a Variation of the Food
As the parent, you should not have to make three different dinners to satisfy everyone’s needs. Instead, serve a variation of what you are making. For example, my daughter does not like baked ziti, as she does not like cheese. When I am making this dish for dinner, I set aside a bowl of noodles with sauce for her and make the rest into the ziti. I did not go out of my way and make her a separate meal. I am merely respecting the fact that she dislikes all kinds of cheese (just like her mom!)
If your child does not like the consistency of cooked carrots, then let her eat raw ones instead. The same goes for any cooked vegetable.
Let Them Go Hungry
This last option for preventing your child from becoming a picky eater is to let him go hungry. I know this sounds harsh, and this choice is not for the faint of heart. Children will not die of hunger from missing dinner once or twice. You may feel terrible, but the fact is if dinnertime has become a battle royale, this may be your best choice.
To make sure this is effective, your child many not eat a substitute snack later, because you are sending a mixed message. If your child is hungry later, give him a piece of bread or a few dry crackers.
It isn’t easy to deal with a picky eater, but it is something you can help prevent. In the long run, it will make meal time a much more pleasant experience for everyone.