Kids can be picky eaters for a number of reasons, though research has pinpointed three types of picky eaters:
- The three-food picky eater- this type of picky eater will only eat a couple different types of foods.
- The specific foods picky eater- this type of picky eater will refuse to eat foods with certain characteristics.
- The moody picky eater-this type of picky eater will suddenly begin to refuse eating foods that had previously been their favorites.
Often children with certain medical problems will be picky eaters as well. But by following these tips parents can stop fighting their kids to get them to eat.
1. Don't Be a Short-Order Cook
Making separate meals for the picky eater in the family will actually encourage the behavior. Parents will reinforce that children will get what they want to eat simply by being oppositional. Instead, make the child stay at the table with the rest of the family for meal times, even if they don't eat. Eventually the child's survival instinct will kick in and they will eat when they get hungry enough. This is often tough for parents but in the long run children will be better off.
2. Respect a Child's Appetite
Contrary to what most moms think, children are not always hungry. If a child says they aren't hungry, they shouldn't be forced to eat. When they get hungry, they will eat. Forcing them to eat when they aren't hungry turns meal time into a power struggle that just makes the whole thing unpleasant for everyone.
3. Don't Bribe Kids to Eat
Along the same lines as respecting a child's appetite, parents shouldn't bribe their kids with food. This will only teach the child that they will get something for doing what they are supposed to do anyway and the problem will snowball. Instead serve small portions of several foods, some the child likes and some new foods. Encourage children to eat in a circle, tasting some things that are familiar and then the new foods. It's much less stressful than constantly battling over the dinner table.
4. Stick to a Routine
Children love routines. It gives them a sense of control and balance, because with a routine, they always know what to expect. Any mom that's ever had a kid melt down when they didn't get a nap on time knows that first hand. By sticking to a normal meal time routine, it will help kids settle down and eat. A normal routine might include meals being served around the same times each day, going potty and washing hands before meals and saying grace.
5. Be Sneaky
This may sound bad, but it really isn't, especially when a picky eater's food choices interfere with good nutrition. There are several cook books that are widely available at most bookstores that have recipes to sneak good stuff into foods that kids love, like cupcakes that hide pureed fruit and whole grains. By being sneaky parents can at least ensure that kids are getting the nutrition that they need, while working on getting them to try new foods.
6. Be Creative
Along with being sneaky, why not try being creative? Add healthy stuff to kid's favorite foods, like adding veggies to pasta sauce. Try cutting foods into fun shapes or try adding some tasty condiments to foods that kids might not otherwise like. For instance, many kids like ranch, but not necessarily green beans. But by letting the green bean "fish" go swimming in the ranch swimming pool, they just might forget that they are eating green beans. It sounds simple, but it works. Feeding therapist use this trick all the time.
7. Be Patient
It can take a long time for kids to take a liking to a new food. Sometimes it could take 15 encounters with a certain food before a child takes to it, and sometimes it isn't the food itself, but perhaps the appearance or the texture or the size. One example is cheese. Sometimes a parent may have to start with finely shredded cheese and offer a few shreds at a time before working up to a stick of string cheese.
8. Set a Good Example
This one is hard for many parents who themselves are picky eaters. But it goes without saying that parents can't expect a kid to eat their broccoli if they aren't eating it themselves. The good news is that by setting a good example, parents may find some new things that they like as well.
9. Let the Kids Help
Kids often are more inclined to eat something that they helped make. There are many ways to do this, even for the smallest of toddlers. Let the kids plant a veggie garden. When it's time to pick the veggies, make a big deal out of it and they will be more likely to eat it. If that isn't possible, let them be "produce pickers" at the grocery store. Let them choose the fruits and vegetables that the family will eat. Older kids can help cook meals, giving them a sense of ownership.
10. Use Special Feeding Tools
There are special feeding tools available to help parents of picky eaters. These include special plates and utensils that allow kids to choose their own portion size, or make trying new foods less intimidating. Often a simple sectioned plate can go a long way as kids don't always want their food to touch.
Coping with picky eaters doesn't have to drive parents crazy. By using these tips parents can take the stress out of meal times and ensure that the little ones get all the nutrition that they need to grow big and strong.