Are meal times a struggle in your house?
When I met my husband, I was amazed by how his children (now my stepchildren) would eat anything put in front of them. Asparagus, oysters, stinky French cheeses… No problemo! Meanwhile, I had been struggling just trying to get my kids to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without having to take the crust off first. Although there are still some obstacles to overcome, there have been some major improvements in our house. Here are some tips I learned along the way:
- Be a role model.
Focus on your own good eating habits. If you are pushing your kids to eat fresh fruits for snack time, but you are plowing into a bag of potato chips, the message isn’t going to get across. If you don’t like to receive hypocritical advice, don’t give it either.
- Let your kids participate.
A great way to get your kids interested in trying new things is to take them grocery shopping with you. Tell them to choose one new food item that they have not yet tried each time you go. This will spark some interest and also help them feel like they have a say in meal choices. Let them cook with you. They will be proud of the meal that they made and will be more likely to enjoy eating it.
- Give them control.
Kids like to feel like they are in control. The more you push them, the less they will be open to doing something. For the older kids, tell them at mealtime, “It is your decision to eat what is on your plate.” Don’t force it or they will see mealtime as a bad experience and may even rebel in the future by eating even less. If they don’t eat it, just simply take it away and tell them there is nothing else to eat until the next mealtime. No one is going to starve overnight.
- Don’t stress.
Don’t let mealtime become a negative event. This is important family time that everyone should look forward to. Just take a deep breath and know that mealtime struggles are common and, as grandma always said, “this too shall pass.”
- Put it on their plate, even if you know they won’t eat it.
Are you 99% positive that the lonely green bean won’t budge an inch? Leave it there. The more your kids see a new food, the more likely it is that they will eat it. In fact, many children need to be exposed to a new food more than 10 times before they will try it.
- Cut down on between-meal snacks and drinks.
One of the most important things I learned was to cut down on snacks and drinks between meals. If you are giving your kids milk or juice between meals, they may not be hungry enough to eat at mealtime. Give water. Snack time after school? Stick with fresh fruits or veggies. Otherwise, your kids will just rely on snack time and fill up on that, thinking that Mom or Dad is going to serve something they don’t like at mealtime.
- Don’t be a short-order cook.
This is a toughie. Parents don’t want to see their kids hungry and are easily tempted to just make something they know they love. By doing this, however, you are being an enabler. Why try anything else when you know you are going to get exactly what you want anyway? What is put on the table should be the only option given.
In the meantime, remember that your child’s picky eating won’t likely change overnight. Still, by keeping these tips in mind and implementing them, you are taking steps toward happier mealtimes and a lifetime of healthy eating. If you’re concerned about your child’s health, talk to his or her healthcare provider.