When I was a little girl, I often daydreamed about my future kitchen and all the eloquent dinners I’d host and fancy recipes I’d prepare. Even as a youngster, I loved food and marveled at the endless variety it offered. But then, I grew up, got married and had a child. And my culinary daydreaming bubble abruptly POPPED!
As a mother, I fervently understand the desire to make sure your children are getting all the adequate nutrition they need. And with childhood obesity on the rise, the spotlight on parents and how they feed their children is now more intense than ever before.
Tips for mealtime success
But experts caution parents about making mealtimes stressful. Well-meaning parents can often do more harm than help by forcing their children to eat — even if it’s nutritious foods.
So what are parents to do when their children won’t eat? The best thing, really, is to just relax and follow these tips:
- Be patient if your child wants to eat the same food over and over.
This is called a "food jag," and it doesn't usually last long enough to cause harm. If the food that the child eats repeatedly is a healthy food, then allow them to eat it until the food jag passes.
- Allow your child to explore foods.
If they aren't ready to taste it yet, allow them to just look at it. It is normal for them to want to touch or smell food on their plate before they are willing to taste it.
- Introduce only one new food at a time.
Let the child know whether the new food will taste sweet, salty or sour.
- Seat a reluctant taster beside a friend, brother or sister who is a good eater, especially when a new food is introduced.
- Encourage your child to at least taste food, but never force or bribe them to eat it.
In my house, we have the “two bite” rule. All new foods have to get two bites (our child gets to choose the size of the bite) before he can say he doesn’t like it.
- Serve an unfamiliar food with familiar ones.
This will increase the likelihood that the child will taste the new food. For example, serve a peanut butter sandwich made with one piece of white bread and one piece of whole wheat bread.
- A child's "No" doesn't always mean no.
Continue to offer a new food and don't give up. Many young children must be offered a food 10 times or more before they will take a bite, according to recent research.
- Serve food plain, because many children like foods that they can easily recognize.
- Respect the "no foods touching" rule if that is important to your child.
That’s important to our child, and I bought special plates with dividers.
- Remember that most children prefer bright colored foods with interesting textures.
- Don't become a "short-order cook."
Expect a picky eater to eat what the rest of the family eats. Offer the same foods to the whole family, but always serve at least one food that everyone will eat.
- Trust your child's appetite.
Forcing them to clean their plate encourages overeating.
- Read stories about food to and with your child.
They may be more likely to try a food that has been introduced in a story.
- Include your child in meal planning, grocery shopping and food preparation whenever possible.
Even the most finicky eater is more likely to try a food they helped prepare. This sense of ownership creates interest and curiosity to help "sell" that first bite.
Also, instead of pouring the parenting energy into what the child does or doesn’t eat during mealtimes, focus the energy on the togetherness of the situation. Mealtimes are a chance for families to talk about their day, express ideas and opinions, and just catch up on each others' lives. Don’t let children’s food fears derail this special time.