Monday, June 16, 2014

Picky eaters? Make eating fun!

There is a common theme to how picky eating (as a problem) is brought on, regardless of the food it includes. Children will test the parent's limits to see what will be enforced, and this includes mealtime. Children are also children, and yet are allowed to make too many decisions for themselves, instead of having parental guidance or encouragement. Growing up, my personal experience was opposite: you eat what momma made, or you don't eat. I'll tell you one thing, I never starved. ;)

Working in nutrition program, my number one complaint from parents is "picky eating". When preferences turn into demands, and certain food groups get consistently left out of the equation (primarily vegetables), it can lead to more serious deficiencies that may harm their growth and development. Parents come desperate, wanting help because habits in the home have gone on too long, and the control is no longer in the parents' hand, but the child's. What can be done, and how can severe picky eating be prevented or corrected?

Mealtime should be fun, and variety should be encouraged. Another reason kids put up a battle to eat is for attention, especially if there is sibling rivalry for attention (negative/disciplinary attention is better to them than no attention at all).The child doesn't have to like everything, but to not eat an entire food group is not O.K. Here are some tips to decrease picky eating, and increase happiness and harmony at your dinner table:

  • T.V., phones, computers, other electronics during meals- these are distracting, and mealtime should be a time to unplug and reconnect with family
  • Using supplemental drinks- Commercials play on this common "problem" parents have to market their product. Drinks such as Pediasure and Carnation Instant breakfast are meant for more severe deficiencies and underweight/failure-to-thrive cases, and should not be used to replace food in the case of picky-eating. *I see this a lot, and it becomes more of a crutch than a temporary replacement for foods avoided.
  • Being a "short-order cook"- kids learn really early what you will/won't do, and will use this to their benefit (they're smarter than you think), so don't make a whole other meal because they didn't like the first one
  • Letting them know YOU don't like a certain food- allow kids to try a new food without bias or preconceived notions based on the fact you don't like something, as kids LOVE to mimic...
  • Allowing snacks that will fill them up- yes, this includes that cup of sugary, chocolate milk
  • "Forcing" child to eat- focus more on encouragement
  • Set regular times for meals/snacks- kids like routine/stability!
  • Praise good behavior/willingness to try the foods offered- instead of catering to "bad" behavior
  • Offer variety in the foods offered (i.e. more than 1 vegetable)
  • Have child help you pick a new vegetable (or whatever they're picky with) to try- the moral of the story is that the child likes to feel like they have a little say-so or control
  • Let them help (age-appropriately) in the kitchen- see previous; children are more willing to try foods they helped make!
  • Expect them to sit with the rest of family
  • Offer raw fruits/vegetables if they do not like them cooked (its O.K.!)
and finally:

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