Many parents talk to me about their children being picky eaters. It begins with toddlers but parents of children in elementary school will also mention their child's eating habits to me. It's an area of concern in many families.
I was considered a picky eater when I was a young child so I'm a little sensitive on the subject. Two memories stand out for me. When I was about 5 years old I refused to eat dinner .My mother told me she would give it to me, cold for breakfast, if I didn't eat it for dinner.I went to bed hungry and the next morning, the cold plate was placed in front of me.I still remember how nauseous I felt looking at that plate.I was hungry and I just wanted a bowl of cereal.I sat at the table and began to cry quietly.My mother said "Oh, I can't do this" and she removed the plate and gave me the cereal.Another clear memory is being at a friend's home and her mother was angry at me for not eating something.I became quite anxious and asked to go home.I missed out on birthday parties and day camps because I was nervous about the foods that would be served.It wasn't because I minded not eating everything, I was perfectly fine, saying "no thank you" and eating just bread. It was the adult's reactions that frightened me and made me anxious.
A child's appetite belongs to the child and it should be respected. Forcing a child to eat is unproductive. In 2008 a team of researchers in Belgium concluded:
"Finally, this study showed that paternal psychological control and maternal psychological control are indirectly related to eating disorders symptoms through their relation with maladaptive perfectionism. According to the authors, these findings support a sequence of events beginning with intrusive and conditionally approving parenting that carries over into eating disorders symptoms through the development of perfectionistic and self-evaluative processes".
The key words here are intrusive and conditionally approving parenting. Even little ones need their space and ability to say "I don't like that." I never force children to eat what they don't want to eat. I don't want a child's likes and dislikes of food to result in negatively impacting my relationship with the child. Engaging in a power struggle over food may harm your relationship with your child and may harm your child's relationship with food. Yes, it is important for children to be exposed to all different types of healthy food. It's important for children to eat less junk food. How do we do that?
- 1)Modeling-If we eat healthy foods and moderate portions our children will be more willing to eat like we do.Of course when there is less junk food in the house, the kids eat less junk. But if we don't allow our kids to ever eat candy, cake, and cookies they will be the first ones to attack it at a birthday party.
- 2)Serve small portions to children who are not into food. Don't overwhelm them.
- 3)Don't ever get into power struggles over food. It's important to have a stand by so the child does not get hungry.Bread and peanut butter was my standby.At the same time do not turn your kitchen into a restaurant, giving unlimited choices to a child that doesn't eat the meal served.
- 4)Stick to a routine-serve meals and snacks at about the same time every day. Snacks should be kept small-water and fruit or whole wheat crackers.
- 5)Be patient with new foods .Allow the child to smell or touch or put small amounts in his mouth. If he spits it out don't punish, hand him a napkin and say "Food can be spit in a napkin, not on the plate" Offer the food on another day, again and again.
- 6)Make it fun-cut vegetables and fruit in shapes, serve with tasty dips.Be creative.
- 7)Encourage child's involvement-from shopping at the store to helping you cook, kids can become comfortable with food. I still remember the first time my daughter tasted red peppers. She was helping me slice the peppers and she popped one in her mouth and decided she liked red peppers!
- 8)Don't offer dessert as a reward.This gives the message that dessert is the best part of the meal. Either you serve dessert or you don't and it is not dependent on whether the child ate what you consider a well balanced meal.
RELAX! Most of my children went through stages of not eating healthy food or not eating enough (in my opinion). Today they are all good, moderate eaters. At times, it was my children that brought home better eating habits .My son learned about margarine and asked me to stop baking with it .A couple of my kids are friends with vegans and learned a lot from them .My daughter was introduced to dates and walnuts as a dessert and loves it! Another son is making all things lentil after being exposed to a vegan diet.
As for me, I consider myself a healthy eater, but don't ever force me to eat certain types of fish, keep olives far away from me, and my little secret: The only fruit I like are apples and oranges.