Being a parent of a picky eater can feel like an ongoing challenge. Worrying that your child isn’t getting enough nutrients can make mealtimes feel like pure power struggles. While being a picky eater can be completely normal, consider these tips to cope with those mealtime battles.
Offer choices: Power struggles often happen because children are struggling with control issues. One way to prevent this is to give your children the opportunity for choices:
- When at the grocery store, let your children pick the produce that they want to eat during the week.
- Before lunch, give your children food options. “Would you like to eat blueberries or strawberries with your sandwich today?”
Let them be chefs: Children are more likely to enjoy mealtime if they’re a part of the experience. So, let them help you in the kitchen. There are a variety of things that children can get involved with when cooking:
- Stirring ingredients
- Rinsing the vegetables
- Mashing the potatoes
- Measuring ingredients
- Setting the table
Try as you go: An easy way to have your children try new ingredients, is to allow them to try foods as you go.
- As you chop vegetables, offer your child a taste of a chopped carrot, celery, cucumber etc.
- Set up a small appetizer plate of healthy vegetables and tell your children that they can help themselves while you cook
- As you cook, ask them to taste the sauce to see if you need to add anything else to it
Make it fun: Children can be easily swayed by novelty and excitement. Consider adding fun colors, shapes, and textures to make mealtimes more fun.
- Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches, fruits, and veggies into fun shapes
- Put a drop of food coloring into eggs or pancakes to make them a special color
- Use toothpicks, large spoons, or colorful plates to make dishes more fun
No pressure meals: The pressures of mealtime can be very taxing on children. Try taking a different approach, and offer a no pressure meal.
- Simply serve your child their plate, without any mention of one food being better for them than others, or telling them that they need to eat a certain amount of their food.
- Then, sit with your child, enjoy your meal, and try to discuss something other than eating.
You might find that without any pressure, they are more likely to try something new, or eat more of something than usual.
Offer safe foods: Sometimes getting your child to sit and take a first bite of their meal can feel like the real challenge.
- Consider putting one item on the plate that is a safe food. (A kind of food that you know that they will eat.)
- After they have tried their safe food, they might be more willing to try something else on their plate.
Eat together: Children love to model their behaviors after adults. Being a good role model can be an easy way to get your child to try new foods.
- Eat together as a family
- Serve yourself the same plate/foods that you are offering to your children
- Model how it looks to try new foods
Rethink snacks: Many parents put a lot of pressure on mealtimes because it is the time of day that children should receive their energy and nutrients. However, snacktime can be just as powerful as meals.
- Rethink snacktime as an extension of meals. Snacks should be an opportunity for children to eat healthy, nutrient dense foods.
- That way, even if your child isn’t getting nutrients at breakfast, they can receive healthy nutrients during their morning snack.
Remember, you can’t control what your child eats, but you can control what you serve them. Keeping mealtimes calm and positive can create a huge change for your picky eater.