Picture this: It’s dinner time. It’s been a long day. Surely the family will appreciate the meal you’ve somehow managed to create.
Parent: “Here is a tasty, wonderfully nutritious meal that I cooked for you.”
Child: Pokes at the glorious meal, “I’m not hungry.”
Parent: Puts away leftovers deflated, but thinks, “At least I have lunch for tomorrow.”
Child 10 minutes later: “I’m starving!”
Parent: (Insert your thought here!)
If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. Just about everyone has a picky eater in their family. Some of the worry with picky eaters is that they may not be getting the well rounded nutrition that they need. Is it possible to help with picky eating?
As parents and caregivers, we can help. It will take some time and probably some changes from how we are doing things now. It’s important not to use force or coercion. This results in negative associations with food and stress with eating- exactly what we don’t want. What we do want and can use is our influence to offer opportunities to explore how they can develop their own preferences and healthy eating style.
Here are a few pointers to help your picky eater explore and expand their food choices:
Allow and encourage kids the opportunity to interact with a variety of food items. Interaction involves seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and even exploring by playing with food. Don’t worry so much about keeping clean. Instead understand that this is how children learn about and try new foods.
Good marketers at successful companies know that the more you see, hear, touch, taste, and interact with a product, the more likely you are to buy it. The same can be said for food. It takes 10 or more exposures to something new, including food, before we try it. More than likely, kids will balk at food on first presentation. Don’t worry, each interaction is one step closer to trying a new food.
Set the tone for meal time by creating an atmosphere that is low stress, invites connection, and fun with the family. Set the table to create the atmosphere you are wanting and let your child help as well. Having a routine around dinner creates a more positive outlook toward the meal itself.
As much as possible, cook meals at home. Starting with raw food and cutting, chopping, roasting and searing, cooking helps prepare the brain and body to eat. You may have noticed when your mouth waters or you can’t help but look in the pot at what is cooking. The sights, sounds, and smells when cooking get the mouth and stomach prepared to eat and to digest.
Be aware of your influence over your reactions to when a new food is tried. This includes facial expressions, words, body language etc. Reframe “failure to try a new food” by understanding that the new food was a learning experience and there will be more opportunities to keep learning. Be sure to work out your own issues with food and healthy eating habits. Kids are always watching and learning from the examples we set. They adopt our attitudes and beliefs about food.
Like anything that is worth doing, building more variety in someone’s diet takes time. It also takes intentional effort. Commit to doing these things for a month or so and you are sure to see progress. You can do it and it will be worth it!