Helping Your Picky Eater Become Interested in Healthy Foods

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By Guest Blogger Tricia Sheehan

Are you frustrated by the small number of foods your child will eat? Are you worried that your child isn’t getting enough nutrients? Tired of the mealtime fights that leave the whole family tired and stressed? Here are the top 5 tips for resolving food battles with your child and establishing healthy habits that last.

1. Focus on habits, not nutrition.
Wait, what? Stay with me here. Dr. Dina Rose (author of “It’s Not About The Broccoli”) says that the secret is not in worrying so much about which foods they are eating but rather the habits they establish around food that matter.

Habit #1 – Proportion. Eat healthy foods more often than treat foods. (What are healthy foods vs treat foods will be the topic of another article!)

Habit #2 – Variety. Eat different foods each day. Rotate breakfast foods, for example. One day is eggs, next day is oatmeal. They can choose what to eat but can’t eat the same thing two breakfasts in a row.

Habit #3 – Moderation. Eat when hungry and stop when full. Learn to listen to their bodies and respect hunger and fullness cues.

2. “You don’t have to like it”
No one likes being told how to feel and what to like. Just because you love apples doesn’t mean your kid must love apples. But if you made chili for dinner, it’s important for kids to know that you will not be making another meal. They have a right to be unhappy about it but that doesn’t change the fact that dinner is chili tonight. Another helpful tactic is, “You don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.” Some kids even find it soothing to know they have the option of spitting it out if they don’t like it.

3. Calm the fear.
Kids won’t try new foods because they are afraid of what they will taste like. Their experience with food is much more limited than ours. Consider if I put in front of you a big jar of applesauce that I had dyed green and put chunks of something into. You likely would have trouble judging how it would actually taste since you’ve never had it before but it doesn’t look appealing to you so you reject it. Who knows – maybe it tastes like apple pie or maybe it’s pretty gross. Most kids aren’t willing to risk it.

By talking about textures, tastes, and smells you can give your child clues about what to expect. “This is crunchy” or “this tastes like the casserole we had at Grandma’s last week” is more helpful than “yum, this is so good” or “just try it, you will like it.”

4. Be consistent.
Every parent knows how hard it is to deal with whining, crying kids at the end of a long day when everyone is tired. But giving in or not following your own rules will only breed more discord as the kids learn they can break you down with more and more bad behavior. Compassion is helpful here. You can say, “I’m sorry that you’re so frustrated we can’t have pizza tonight for dinner but I have made chicken cutlets for today and we’ll have pizza another time.” Firm but kind, that’s your golden rule here.

5. Don’t stress out.
Kids pick up on your stress. If you can maintain a calm demeanor, your entire mealtime experience will relax and kids will be more open to the changes you seek. Children don’t starve themselves. They will grow up to eat more than chicken nuggets. Of course, be sure to rule out any medical issues with your doctor but otherwise it’s more about what they ate over the course of a week that what they eat at each individual meal. Keep in mind that this is a journey and you won’t get things perfectly right away. That’s OK! Don’t beat yourself up. Keep trying your best and keep being mindful and intentional about food in your home.

Keep being a good example for your kids by having your own healthy relationship with food. Have patience, stay calm, do your best, and focus on progress not perfection. Carry on, warrior parents!


5 thoughts on “Helping Your Picky Eater Become Interested in Healthy Foods

  1. Anonymous

    You can also hide foods in other foods, if nutrition is really a concern. Pureed cauliflower in mac and cheese or cream cheese in scrambled eggs are good examples. It may not change the reluctance to try new foods but you can hopefully get a little more nutrition in him until the tantrum habit subsides. Good luck. I had a fit thrower too and I hope it will end for you like it did (mostly) for me.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    What do you do with full-out tantrums? My son will completely fall apart at dinner time when we have something new. All I ask is for him to try it and he just melts down. Screaming, crying, etc. I have tried to ignore, do time-out, send him to bed, but it just keeps happening. He knows I will not give in and he knows there is no other choice and will go to bed hungry. It makes the whole family upset at dinnertime and seems to do no good to ask him to try something new.

    Reply
    1. Tricia Sheehan

      Consider that it may just be all about power and not so much about the food. Are there aspects of the meal you can give him some control over? Depending on his age, this will vary. Can he choose a recipe, help you shop for ingredients, or help make the meal? You can start small with just one aspect of the meal, as it’s likely too hard to let him have a part in everything. Starting small is OK too! If he will only ever want mac and cheese, how about doing a homemade version together instead of the boxed kind? Dinnertime sounds really stressful for your whole house and it’s more important to dial down the stress than get the broccoli in. Hope that helps!

      Reply

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