One of the most challenging parts of parenting – feeding the picky child. I have news for you. All children are picky and most adults are too. While I don’t believe that children are just small adults, it’s helpful if you put some things into perspective as an adult, before your picky child stresses you out.
Think about all of the things you don’t like. For many adults, texture is a huge issue. Don’t like cottage cheese?, maybe seafood doesn’t float your boat (haha! sorry)? Most adults have foods they wouldn’t eat unless they were going to be a contestant on Fear Factor (showing my age again).
Now, think of those foods that disgust you and imagine someone feeding them to you as your only option. You would probably take a hard pass and just stay intent on finding something else to eat later – not unlike the refusal to eat demonstrated by many young ones. And because it’s not socially acceptable to throw a tantrum at the dinner table as an adult, you quietly throw insults at the person serving you food that you obviously will not eat.
So, if you refuse to eat food you don’t like, can you imagine what it’s like for a child to be forced to eat food they do not like and not have the emotional maturity to deal with it? Complete and utter chaos.
Yes, you are the parent and just trying to do what’s right for your child and you definitely don’t want them eating chicken nuggets and corn dogs at every meal, so how many fights are you willing to put up with? Here are some tips that just might work for your child if they are at least 8 years old.
- Talk to them about their likes and dislikes. I know, this may sound elementary, but it is the singularly most important thing you can do to make your child a better eater. Here are some topics to discuss
- What foods do you like all the time?
- What foods do you not like?
- What are some foods that you like sometimes?
- With the foods you don’t like, why don’t you like them?
- Tell them how important healthy food helps them as a (insert sport here…basketball player, gymnast, swimmer, runner, etc)
- If your child is even slightly competitive, they may start to make the connection, depending on age
- Get them involved in the process of food. This does not mean they have to be in the kitchen with you. Here are some ideas for you:
- Give them a notebook and have them help you plan out meals as you drive to practice – this gives them a stake in the meal process – surely they will only suggest meals they are willing to eat. Give requirements for the meal – for example: dinner must contain two vegetables you will eat…any two vegetables (french fries and chips do not count – don’t let them fool you)
- Take them grocery shopping with you. This is a teachable moment. Each trip is an opportunity to expose them to something new.
- Watch a cooking show together. They are more likely to try something if they see someone else eating it in a delicious way.
- Let your child search for a recipe on their own. They may find a picture that really appeals to them and are willing to try it even though it contains an ingredient they think they don’t like.
- Be patient. Tastes change and your child’s completely irrational reasoning for not liking a particular food may disappear one day. Pay attention to what they eat and never stop encouraging. Feeding can be challenging but strive to make meals a positive experience.
- When all else fails, seek help. If you are worried about your child’s nutritional health, especially if they are growing and heavily involved in a sport, it’s not a bad idea to get some professional advice. A registered dietitian can review what your child is eating and give immediate feedback on what nutrients may be lacking in their diet and the consequences of such. They can also give helpful suggestions on what alternatives are out there for each nutrient. For example, if you struggle to get your child to drink milk, but they love cheese – figure out a way to get them some parmesan cheese, which contains almost the same amount per ounce as a cup of milk!
Feeding kids is hard, but you’re not only feeding a kid, you’re also feeding an athlete. The nutrition habits they learn now will influence how they eat in middle school, high school, and beyond. It’s never too late to start emphasizing good nutrition, even in the pickiest of eaters.