We used to dread dinnertime or in fact any mealtime when our children were toddlers. We would prepare healthy meals with care and include all the food groups and make the food look appealing. Most of these offerings were rejected or spilled on the table and the children would grumble that they weren’t hungry. It was difficult not to take this rejection of our culinary skills personally. What were we doing wrong, why were they such picky eaters? We decided to tackle this issue head on and did some research and came up with some of our own strategies.
Be a good role model. It is quite simple. You cannot expect your children to eat healthy food if you don’t. Your child learns from watching and mimicking you. You may have to venture out of your own comfort zone of eating and try new foods yourself. Remember, you are being watched.
Share it. Invite a friend or a cousin over who is the same age or slightly older whom you know likes to eat. Your child will catch on. Group feeding lets the other kids set the example.
Include your kids in the prep work. Let them be involved in grocery shopping and food preparation. If they feel some ownership over the meal they may be more likely to eat it.
Let them prepare and cook. Children are more likely to eat their own creations, so when appropriate let your child help prepare the food. Use cookie cutters to create edible designs out of foods like cheese, bread or cooked lasagne noodles. Give your assistant jobs like tearing lettuce, washing carrots or whisking eggs.
Don’t rush meals. It is quite likely that your child is a slow eater and this is a good habit to encourage. Offer plenty of time to eat a meal.
Praise them. Even if they just have small tastes of a new food congratulate your child. For a picky eater this little nibble is a great accomplishment. Ask them how it tasted and encourage them to have a bit more the next time.
Respect tiny tummies. Keep food servings small. This less-is-more meal plan is not only more successful with picky eaters; it also has the added benefit of stabilising blood-sugar levels, which in turn minimizes mood swings. As most parents know, a hungry kid is generally not a happy kid.
Minimise distractions. Make the mealtime table a relaxed and positive environment. Turn off the television during meals and don’t allow books or toys at the table.
Stop the Snacks. Don’t allow snacks and juices for at least one hour before mealtime. If your children are hungry when they get to the table they may be more likely to eat what you put in front of them. Remember, when you serve snacks try and make it at the same time every day and keep them healthy!
Don’t use sweet treats as rewards. This behaviour is unlikely to encourage your child to eat the food you want them to eat and can teach your child how to be manipulative with you.
Eat with your child. This makes mealtimes more sociable and enjoyable. Ask them to give you a spoonful of their food and you can offer them some of yours. Show your enjoyment at what they have fed you.
Try and have your meals at a regular time. Kids love that sense of routine. Be patient, it takes time to develop good eating habits. Above all have fun together and let children grow up believing that eating is a pleasurable experience.