How to have Family Mealtime with Picky Eaters
Picky Eaters are toddlers who have strong food preferences, leading them to be extremely selective about what they eat. Picky eating can put stress on parents, but hang in there because most toddlers will outgrow this phase after the age of 5. For those of you currently dealing with picky eaters, Sentido is here to help! In this blog, you will learn 6 valuable tips on how to have family mealtimes with picky eaters. We hope this will be a useful tool for you that can ease the stress of parenting and create enjoyable family time. First things first –
- Prepare one meal for the entire family
Do not prepare special meals for picky eaters! Everyone in the family will get a serving of the same meal. All items on the menu will be served on each plate, even if it is a small amount of some foods. The goal is to have your picky eater be okay with all the items being on the plate. Remember, you can only provide the meal. Your child has to choose to eat it! That being said –
- Encourage picky eaters to try foods
Once you have all the food items on their plate, encourage them to try each item. They do not have to like it, but they do have to try it. It takes at least 13-15 tries of the exact same food before people can truly decide if they like it or not. Therefore, do not give up on encouraging your picky eater. Even if they did not like a specific item previously, keep encouraging them to try it again. This leads to the next tip –
- Don’t force-feed and avoid fighting
Make sure when encouraging your little one that you are being positive and not forcing anything. Also, avoid “fighting” at the table over who is eating what and how much. Set ground rules for how food is talked about. For example, “Food is not gross. You can say you don’t like it, but we do not call it gross.” or “First we try it, THEN we decide if we like it or not.” Stand your ground, this new approach will likely face some resistance, but if you are consistent, eventually all members will adjust. A good way to turn a negative food conversation into a positive one is to –
- Discuss the benefits of the healthy foods
Prepare healthy foods to nourish your family and discuss how they are beneficial. For example, “Broccoli has vitamins that help keep us healthy, so even if it’s not our favorite, it’s good for us to eat it to keep our body healthy.” or “Did you know fish has special vitamins that help keep your brain and heart-healthy?” Sound excited about menu items and how they are nourishment for our body. This is especially effective with younger children. For older children, think about things that are important to them. For example, “Eating more balanced meals will help you perform better in sports, or have healthier skin, nails, and hair.” The latter is especially effective with teenage girls who are beginning to be more concerned about their body image. However –
- Avoid directly correlating food with weight
Correlating food with weight can affect children’s self-esteem. Avoid body shaming or singling out particular family members for their weight or health status. Remember that someone who is overweight can also be malnourished, as their diet is probably not balanced. Similarly, someone who is thin could be unhealthy because their diet could also be unbalanced. If weight is a concern, make small changes such as replacing pasta with zucchini noodles or lentil noodles. Another idea is to add well-chopped veggies into mixed dishes such as pasta, casseroles, or stir-fries, so they are not as noticeable. Also, you can substitute tofu for chicken. Don’t tell anyone, they may not notice!
- Be creative when children notice “weird” items
This can be done is many ways! For example, add chia seeds to yogurt and call them “sprinkles.” Call zucchini noodles “green spaghetti.” This helps new or different foods sound cooler to young children. Pair unfamiliar or less popular items with familiar and favorite items. For example, if you are introducing a new vegetable such as asparagus, pair it with your child’s favorite chicken dish. Don’t force them to eat but encourage them to take at least 3 bites. If they know how to count, encourage children to take the same number of bites as their age. For example, for your 5-year-old, say “show me 5 big boy bites, since you’re 5 now!”
Remember that all family members need to have similar ground rules! For example, don’t expect one child to drink only water at mealtimes while the other is allowed to drink sodas. Everyone needs to make healthy decisions. Be a team, encourage one another, and embark on a healthy journey together.
Disclaimer – This post does not provide medical advice and is intended for educational purposes only. Please talk to a medical professional if you have any questions regarding picky eaters.