Feeding children is an art. Each child is different, and we need to approach food mindfully and peacefully. Parents and caregivers must remind themselves to stay mindful and peaceful, sometimes on a daily basis, and not to be too quick to label their children. Many parents and caregivers label their children as “picky eaters” – my son is what I sometimes silently refer to as a “non-adventurous eater” (as to not label him so early on in his life) as he is seldom willing to try new foods. It is because of this that I prefer to prepare and eat meals at home, as when we dine out, he is only willing to eat a few “safe” items such as pasta, pizza, or French fries. I do look forward to when he enjoys dining out because I anticipate opportunities of sharing different cuisines with my little guy.
At home, I am able to provide a variety of foods and feel confident he is getting well balanced nutrition. Each meal consists of a spread of nutritious and wholesome foods. I look at it as an opportunity to expand his palate by making variations of foods that he already enjoys; for example, if your child enjoys French fries, try making variations that include baking with different seasonings to expand their taste buds. It is during mealtimes that I can also model good behavior of eating a variety of foods; even if he doesn’t try the foods I am eating, I know he is watching me. I also make mealtimes neutral and I never push him to try foods. I let him decide what he eats and how much he eats, but be aware that this can vary greatly from day to day and try not to overthink or worry about their choices too much. I like to make mealtimes fun and interactive, and I always try to leave a good chunk of time so we don’t rush through mealtime conversation.
Working with parents and caregivers, it becomes clear that we enable such “picky” behavior. All we want is for children to eat so they are well-nourished and healthy. We may have good intentions but sometimes our good intentions make mealtimes stressful and create a negative undertone. Try to relax, breathe and not overreact if your child does not eat up to your standards. Children have an innate ability to know what and how much to eat as long as you provide them with a selection of nutritious foods. As your children grow, so will their taste buds, and most kids eventually grow out of “picking eating”. Therefore, make it your job to provide nutritious foods but let your children have control over their own food intake.
Here are some positive tips to help your child have a good relationship with food and mealtimes:
- Let your kids be “produce pickers.” Let them pick out fruits and veggies at the store.
- Have your child help you prepare meals. Children learn about food and get excited about tasting food when they help make meals. Let them add ingredients, wash veggies, or help stir food.
- Offer choices. Rather than ask, “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask “Which would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?”
- Enjoy each other while eating family meals together. Talk about fun and happy things. If meals are times for family arguments, your child may learn unhealthy attitudes toward food.
- Offer the same foods for the whole family. Don’t be a “short-order cook,” making a different meal for your child. Your child will be okay even if he or she does not eat a meal now and then.
- Let your kids try small portions of new foods. Give them a small taste at first and be patient with them.
- Offer only one new food at a time. Serve something that you know your child likes along with the new food. Offering more new foods all at once could be too much for your child.
- Be a good role model. Try new foods yourself. Describe their taste, texture, and smell to your child.
- Offer new foods first. Your child is most hungry at the start of a meal. Sometimes, new foods take time. Kids don’t always take to new foods right away. It may take up to a dozen tries for a child to accept a new food.
- Relax, breathe and know you are doing a good job at feeding your children.