This information is for parents. It is especially for parents of kids ages one and older who are “picky eaters.” These are the folks who frequently have their dining tables turned into battle grounds. The “rules” listed below, while perhaps difficult to follow at first, can change all that. Following these guidelines may also prevent your child from becoming a “picky eater.”
1. You are in control.
2. You are not a short order cook.
3. It is your job to establish meal times.
4. It is your job to serve nutritious meals.
5. It is your kids’ job to decide if they want to eat at all and how much they will eat.
(Healthy children will not starve themselves.)
6. Food is not a reward.
7. Reread rule #5!
If you are offering your children nutritious meals and snacks at regular times, then you are doing your job. Rule #5 is critical. You must let the kids do their part while you remain committed to good nutrition in the face of desperate cries for junk food. If your kids are healthy, they won’t go hungry for long. Studies show that picky eaters, who are normally talked into eating or forced to eat, actually eat more when they’re left alone. Just be sure to include 1 or 2 nutritious items per meal that your child will like, but don’t make them a special meal.
This includes serving your favorite meal even if the kids don’t like it. Exposing them to a variety of foods is important. But, never force a child to try a food; be patient and let their natural curiosity kick in.
Try involving your kids in meal planning and preparation. This gives them a sense of independence and control as well as an appreciation for the work that you do.
You want your kids to eat in response to natural, internal hunger cues, not external cues. Threatening a child around food, such as saying, “you can’t leave the table unless you eat your spinach,” severely disrupts this process. And saying things like, “be a good girl and I’ll give you candy,” teaches your daughter to use food to reward, calm, and comfort herself. While well meaning, these outside influences can have devastating consequences later in life in the form of an eating disorder or may contribute to obesity.
The bottom line – set some simple food rules and stick to them – then relax and enjoy your meals. For further help, try the book, How to Get Your Kids to Eat…But not Too Much, by Ellyn Satter. It’s a great resource!