How to Battle Picky Eater Behavior
Parents of young children know how mealtime can quickly turn into a battlefield.
Suddenly a favorite food is completely off the table, and compromises on an alternative cannot be reached.
Don’t wave your napkin in defeat.
Arm yourself with the knowledge that picky eater behavior is a completely normal part of childhood development, and that there are tactics to ensure everyone walks away from the table a winner.
First, you have to understand what causes a child to become a picky eater.
“Some children are naturally more sensitive to taste, smell and texture, and their taste will change over time,” says Dr. Grace Galiza, a pediatrician at Kauai Medical Clinic, adding that some children may snub food as a reflection of a behavioral stage they are in.
“They may be trying to practice their independence by challenging your parenting, which can result in what seems as defiant behavior,” Galiza says. “At the end of the day, they need to know who the parent is. You decide what they eat, how much and when they eat.”
However, do not force children to clean their plate or offer a bribe – “Finish your veggies and you get dessert!” – as these techniques can backfire.
“Picky eating habits are more likely to develop when parents punish, bribe or reward their children’s eating behaviors,” she explains.
Instead, be patient and consistent with providing healthy food options at every meal.
“Keep in mind children can be offered a food up to 15 times before they will try it, and that children may react differently to the same foods on different days – something your child eats today, he or she may not eat tomorrow,” Galiza says.
Plan ahead for such situations by having a few different food options at the ready.
Then, let children have the power to choose which they would like to have.
“Give them a choice between two good things, not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option,” says Galiza. “For example, tell them that tonight they can have Spaghetti Squash Lasagna or Lentil Sloppy Joes. Children are more likely to eat something when they have a part in the decision-making process.”
Other tips to keep in mind when dealing with a picky eater include:
- Get keiki involved with the meal planning and preparing process, including grocery shopping, food prep and serving. Assign duties according to age. For example, older children can help peel and chop veggies, while younger ones can mix dry ingredients or help count out measurements.
- Cut food into fun shapes or serve in dishware decorated in their favorite color or with their favorite cartoon character.
- Be mindful of the dining environment and focus on providing a fun and pleasant experience. Make mealtime mean quality time with the family.
- Offer solid foods before liquids, and limit juice and milk intake to no more than 4 ounces a day of juice (or preferably none) and 24 ounces a day of milk.
Remember, children can develop picky eating habits by modeling their parents own view on food, so set a good example by including a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats in your own diet.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s eating habits, Galiza advises parents contact their pediatrician.
“As a pediatrician, I focus on being sure they are eating nutritious foods as much as possible, and I also like to emphasize healthy eating habits that are sustainable on a daily basis,” Galiza says.
“Keiki’s appetite and how much they eat vary daily – they may eat everything you offer them one day, then refuse to eat the next. Be reassured that he or she will make up the nutrients and calories later that day or even later that week,” Galiza says. “Their taste will change over time and, yes, they will outgrow this picky eating behavior.”
Published on: June 18, 2019