One of my nephews is a bit of a picky eater, and he said this to his dad one night at dinner time. Since it wasn’t my kid, I found it hilarious, but I can sympathize with the pain this brings to a parent.
Kids can be picky eaters. Some of it is learned, but some of it is not. Everyone has different taste and texture preferences. Only a small percentage of the population is actually able to truly taste bitter, so they will naturally be more sensitive to bitter foods. People who struggle with ADHD and some personality disorders can struggle with different textures of food. We can’t control any of that.
What we can control is the environment around food for our children. I believe in Ellyn Satter’s philosophy: parents control what food is available and when the family eats while children control what and how much food they actually eat. As parents, you provide a balanced, nutritious diet of routine meals and snacks. Your child can choose to eat what is provided or not.
As a parent, this is INCREDIBLY difficult at times. I know how frustrating it is to spend time making a meal and then watch your child refuse to eat anything but bread (or fruit or milk) or just refuse to eat at all. For me, dinner is especially frustrating because it is the end of the day which equals the end of my patience. But I know this method works and is worth it.
Some tips on dealing with picky eating:
– Keep trying. Try foods in different forms, different combinations, etc. I loved this article by a fellow dietitian when her onion-hating son asked to order onion rings.
– Expose kids to food away from the table. Take them with you to the grocery store and talk about what you are buying. Point out food in books, movies, TV shows, etc. For example, my daughter received the book “Rah Rah Radishes” as a gift for her birthday. She loves to read it and has since asked for cauliflower. Did she eat it when I made it? No, but she recognized it. Last night, before ignoring the green beans on her plate, she said, “Go green bean!” Recognizing foods is half the battle with some children.
– Make kids feel involved. Let them help you cook or plan the menu as is age appropriate. Even for my two-year old, I let her choose what she eats for lunch from a couple available options. Think about it. So much of life is dictated to children. Letting them feel in control of what they eat can help with some of the power struggles and focus more on the actual food.
– Don’t expect a miracle. Sometimes it happens. Last night, my daughter ate half a fillet of tilapia, which blew my mind. But those moments are fairly rare. Just know that you are creating a good base of food knowledge for your child. And eventually, many kids grow out of it. I don’t think I willingly ate zucchini until I was 17. But now I eat it all the time.
What do you do to make mealtimes more enjoyable with your kids? I’d love to know your tricks or hear your stories in the comments.
Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!