There’s a whole world of delicious and nutritious meal options to choose from. But try telling that to a picky child. If your kids are insisting on chicken nuggets and cheese pizza seven days a week, you understand the challenges that mealtimes can present.
While preparing food for a picky palate can be frustrating, there are some ways to cope without resorting to bribes, threats or giving up and reaching for the macaroni and cheese for the fifth night in a row. Check out these seven tips for surviving and thriving through meals with a picky eater.
Minimize snacking between meals
While your aim isn’t to starve them out, you don’t want to fill them up either. If your kids get hungry close to mealtimes, offer them healthy, lighter snacks such as fruit and veggies. And to keep their appetites up, limit fruit juices and milk between snacks and meals, opting for water when they’re thirsty instead.
Lead by example
Instead of giving in and serving the whole family from the picky eater’s shortlist every day, serve a variety of healthy and tasty foods and encourage the picky eater to join in. If your child has a friend with more adventurous taste buds, have him or her over for a playdate or dinner; kids are often more likely to emulate a friend than listen to a nagging parent.
Get the kids involved
Let your picky eater help you grocery shop, meal plan, prepare foods, and set the table. Not only will this show her that there’s nothing “gross” or “weird” about the foods being served, it can also help her develop a sense of pride and control over what she’s eating.
If at first you don’t succeed: serve, serve again
Children often require time to get used to a new food. Repeated exposure takes the mystery out of an unfamiliar taste or texture and incorporating small amounts of new items with old favourites can help. Be patient, it can take 10-15 attempts before a child develops a taste for something new.
Don’t force the issue
If your child claims he isn’t hungry, don’t make a big deal out of it and don’t try to force him to eat. This can lead to anxiety and frustration around meal times for everyone. But don’t make him something different, either, as that serves to reinforce picky habits. Instead, encourage him to stay at the table (even if he isn’t eating), and continue to offer a variety of nutritional options each meal until something sticks.
Don’t fall into the dessert-bribery trap
It’s tempting, and many if not all parents have probably resorted to this classic at one point or another. But telling your picky child that she won’t get any dessert until she cleans her plate or tries something new only reinforces her perception that dessert is a “reward” and the rest of the meal is a “punishment.”
Serve meals and snacks at the same general time every day and make mealtime a priority. Turn off the TV, put away the phones, tablets and other distractions, and teach your child the value of sharing food with loved ones. Take the opportunity to talk about the food you are eating; answer questions your children may have about the meal and explain the benefits of certain vegetables, proteins and other components.
It can try your patience, but’s important to keep your cool and maintain a positive association with snacks and mealtimes as your little ones move through this picky-eating phase. Make food fun by experimenting with colours and shapes and continue to offer new options.
If you’re concerned your children aren’t getting the nutrients they need while they figure it out, you may want to add vitamins and supplements to their diets. SISU’s U-Cubes are fun and tasty gummies that provide calcium and D3, multi vitamins and minerals, and vitamin C options in child-friendly flavours and yummy Ester-C Kid Stiks are powdered multi-vitamin drink mixes in convenient single serving packages.