One of our important roles as parents is to help our children develop healthy eating habits. This can often be challenging when dealing with a picky eater, but a great way to start is by creating a positive mealtime environment.
Sit together as a family whenever possible. Eating is a learned behaviour, and as parents, we need to model healthy eating habits for our children.
Here are just a few points to consider:
1. Adjust your expectations
Think about what you ate when you were a child compared to what you eat now. You likely did not enjoy eating many of the foods you eat today. One reason for this is that our taste perception changes as we get older. Young children have more tastebuds then adults do and they are also more concentrated. As adults, we tend to be more willing to try new foods, or eat certain foods because we understand that they are "good for us", whereas children make their food decisions based on appearance and taste. Encouraging a child to be more open to trying new foods is what I like to focus on. There are some foods that may take years for them to begin enjoying, but they will not get a chance to like them if they are never exposed to these foods. Keep in mind that as adults, most of us have food preferences, so we need to allow our children to have their own preferences too.
2. Who is in Control?
Children can be choosy eaters, often because eating is one of the few areas in their lives which they can control. As parents, we are responsible for providing our children with healthy food. We are in control of what is on the menu and when meals and snacks are served. Our children, however, should always remain in control of whether or not they are going to eat at all, and if so, how much. One of the ways we take control away from our children is by forcing or coercing them into finishing everything on their plates. By doing this, we are teaching them to override their bodies' natural signals telling them they are full. It's great to let your kids feel as if they are in control by giving them 2 or 3 healthy options to choose from or by letting them serve themselves. However, allowing them to dictate exactly what is on the menu or preparing separate meals to meet their demands is giving them too much control.
3. Positive Environment
Try not to put the focus on what your child is not eating. Focus on the food, not the child. Start discussions at the table about the food itself. For example, you might begin a meal with a food tour, pointing out where some of the components came from. Did you make something from scratch that you would normally purchase? Did one of your kids help you prepare a particular dish? Were some of the ingredients grown in your own backyard? These are all facts worth noting and celebrating. Playing with your food may not be proper etiquette, but it is a great way for children to explore, become more comfortable with new foods and more willing to try them. There are many positive ways to interact with the food at your table beyond simply eating it.
Building healthy eating habits can take time. It is important to be persistent and consistent with your efforts and to be a good role model for your child. If you are concerned that your child is not eating a balanced diet, look at what your child eats over the course of a day or a week, rather than at each individual meal. For strategies that are specific to your child's situation, set up a nutritional consultation today!
Aviva Allen is a Kids' Nutritionist specializing in helping parents deal with their picky eaters. For or information about one-on-one consultations or upcoming Picky Eater Workshops, visit www.avivaallen.com.