This is the one thing that I think most of us are terrified of….that our kids won’t eat the foods we provide. It was certainly one of my biggest concerns when I changed M’s diet. Interestingly enough, over time I have found that M gave me less trouble than did my youngest. I am still working on E to accept more vegetables than she does. It is a process, and we have not yet arrived, though we have made progress.
As parents, the whole idea of nourishing our kids gives us great amounts of stress. We are so worried when it comes to feeding them. We beg, cajole, and plead with them to eat one more bite of broccoli, to have some meat, to not eat five plates of buttered noodles. It terrifies us, and we end up doing lots of maladaptive things to get them to eat what we want them to eat or to just get them to eat, period. Bribing, forcing them to eat everything on their plates, threats of no dessert, all of these things do not end up teaching our kids to eat. They DO calm us, though, but usually they don’t work as techniques for too long. I was one of those who had to finish their plates before leaving the dinner table, and I can tell you that this technique did not make me enjoy my broccoli one tiny bit!
I have come across quite a few resources for feeding picky kids, and I will link those in this blog post. However I can give you a few tips for introducing and teaching your kids to eat healthfully.
Bring the kids into the “kitchen” with you, whether it is to cook the food, grow the vegetables in your own garden, or go to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Let them see where the food comes from and help you cook. By doing so, they are getting introduced to the many types of foods available and becoming familiar with them. Have them choose which vegetables and fruits they want when they go to the store. If you are at an ethnic mart and you see something that you have never even heard of, go ahead and buy it to take home and try. We have done that here, and it can be a culinary adventure! Just make sure you use it, because I don’t know how many times I have taken something home only to not use it and have to throw it out.
One very helpful thing I learned was to make sure that your child is hungry. If your child is constantly snacking, they will not be very hungry. I don’t know about you, but if you are not hungry foods don’t look that appealing. But when you are starving, you could almost literally hunt down your own food! Even the world’s worst cook’s food might smell absolutely scrumptious. So make sure to leave enough time between meals and snacks, and one recommendation in one of the books that I read suggested that your child eat in certain eating zones. So while they are not hard and fast times, they are ranges of time within which your child can eat. So breakfast can be between 7 and 8:30, snack from 9:30-11:00 and lunch from 12-1:30 for example. That way, if your child skips a meal because they don’t like what you served, they can eat the next meal at a slightly earlier time in the next eating zone. You are able to adjust so that while they have missed a snack that they didn’t like, you are not making them wait until the later eating time. In our example, they can eat at 12 instead of 1 or 1:30. This kind of reinforces that you are sticking to your guns but at the same time, you are not forcing them to be too uncomfortable for too long. Its’ a win-win for you both.
When you do sit down to a meal, make it a pleasant affair. Don’t critique your child’s eating, either good or bad. If your child eats a bite of meat and he hates meat, don’t make a big deal out of it. I know you’ll want to shout it from the rooftops, but don’t. Eating is just something we do, and we don’t want to create an atmosphere of control around eating. So just be casual and keep all anxiety away from the dinner table. Make eating a non issue. Offer a nibble of everything, or just place the food on the table and let everyone serve themselves. The other recommendation is to not make food a reward or punishment for behavior. We have probably all said that you can’t get dessert unless you eat your veggies, but it is not really a good idea to do that.
Having said that, there are special circumstances where some kids need an ABA approach which involves positive reinforcement such as a preferred item coupled with a non preferred item. This can help some children learn to eat the new foods, especially in a situation where the child MUST change their diets drastically for health reasons. Another technique is to slowly introduce a food to the child by having it incrementally enter the child’s surroundings. So it might just be on the table in front of the child for a while. Then the child might accept the food on their plate and so on until the child finally puts it into his or her mouth. Yet another technique to help a child learn to eat certain foods is called Food Chaining. That involves looking at what a child likes about certain foods and bridging those traits with things the child doesn’t. For example, if your child only eats chicken nuggets and breaded foods but won’t eat fish, you could try to make a breaded fish stick. If the child only likes potato chips, you can try making sweet potato chips or go for dehydrated apple to get her to eat the apple.
If your child is having severe feeding issues, of course you will want to get your child evaluated by a speech pathologist, occupational therapist or a feeding clinic in order to find out the best course of treatment for your child. Otherwise, if the situation is not this severe, there are good resources for you. Some books that I’ve read have been very helpful:
Here are a couple of other links to blogs I enjoy which deal with sensory issues and picky eating. The first link is for the GAPS diet, but she explains some of the issues behind picky eating. So even if your child does not do GAPS, you can see some of what she did to get her child to eat and what physiological issues were preventing her child from eating well. Another blog is Wellness Mama, and she has some ideas for what worked for her children.
I hope these have been helpful for you. Just hang in there, Mom, and know that we cannot control everything. We can only guide our kids. Just do your best, say some prayers, and try to stay calm. If this is any consolation, I was extremely picky, but once I got older, I realized that I was the only one eating that way and now I eat it all. And they will too….one day.