Having a fussy eater is no fun. How many of you parents out there feel like you spend half your life in the kitchen taking orders like a cook in a busy diner? This one wants eggs for breakfast, but only scrambled, and the other one only eats hard boiled. One kid wants you to take all the strawberry bits out of her yogurt and the other will only eat foods that are white. Despite the extra work, many parents will continue to cater to their children’s picky demands for years.
Why? Because of fear. Fear that their child will starve, or have to be hospitalized for malnutrition if they serve Poptarts for breakfast instead of oatmeal.
Some parents out there might be horrified to realize that they are actually contributing to their kids’ eating challenges. By offering them only foods they are used to, and not working hard to get them eating other foods, you are just contributing to the problem. But it’s a tricky thing, because some of the methods of encouraging your kids to eat can also backfire big-time.
Here is the number one thing you should NOT say to your kid to get him to eat. Brace yourself, because you or someone you know has probably said it a million times.
“Come on, just 3 more bites.”
It SEEMS reasonable. After all, most savvy parents know that a child has to be exposed to a new food many times before finally realizing it isn’t as disgusting as she thought it was. But what you want is for your child to develop healthy eating habits, not just force the food down her throat.
You want her to LEARN to eat, just like kids can learn to sleep well.
Forcing him to try a food he can’t stand can feel like torturous punishment to a sensitive child. In order for your kid to truly learn to enjoy new foods, you want to foster independence and a sense of autonomy. The best method for doing this is to offer a variety of foods for each meal, making sure that there is at least one (healthy) option that your child likes. Allow your child to serve himself (even toddlers can do this).
Encourage him to try the other items on the table but don’t push. And here’s the kicker. You will offer nothing else. If your child only eats the carrots sticks and doesn’t touch the chili or potatoes, so be it. But as soon as he realize you will not be giving him yogurt tubes and peanut butter and cracker ten minutes after dinner, he will start to explore his options a little more.
It’s also very important that you do not offer treats or bribes for eating healthy food, ie: “finish up that spinach and I’ll make you a nice ice cream sundae.” This again sets up unhealthy ways of thinking about food, and your child continue to feel that you are the one in charge of how much he should eat or of when he’s full. Eating healthy food in order to get junk food could present a problem later in life as well. “Hey, I ate a salad for dinner, now I can binge on Oreos!”
I know it’s scary when you child won’t eat. But trust me, children will not starve themselves. You are in control of what is served, at least for now, so take advantage of this and only offer healthy foods. If your child gets hungry enough, she will eat them. And if not, a meal of carrot sticks once in awhile isn’t going to hurt.
If you have a fussy eater and are looking for ways to eliminate battles around mealtimes, check out The Food Sense Program. It is designed to help even the pickiest of eaters enjoy healthy foods.