The Picky Eater
All young children are more-or-less picky about food. What they eat one day, they don't the next. They eat a lot one day, little the next. They don't eat some of everything that is on the table, but eat one or two foods and ignore the rest!
What’s important is to know they warm up slowly to unfamiliar foods and may have to see, watch you eat, touch or taste a food. They put it in and take it out again 15 or 20 times (or even more) before they learn to like it. If you maintain a division of responsibility in feeding, over time, even a cautious and slow-to-warm-up child will become less erratic about eating and less skeptical of unfamiliar food.
Picky is normal; fincky isn't
However, your child has gone past ordinary picky eating if they get upset seeing unfamiliar food, only ever eats a few (and shrinking list of) favorite foods, and worries they will be unable to eat away from home. You can’t get your child to eat, but you can help resolve negative feelings about eating. You can reassure your child that they don’t have to eat. That will allow them to develop positive attitudes about eating and behave nicely at mealtime. After that, they will ever-so-gradually push along to learn to eat a greater variety of food.
How to address picky eating
Do a good job with feeding and assume your child will grow up with eating. Have regular meals and structured snacks so your child can be hungry but not starved at mealtime. Have family meals, and make those meals a pleasure and a privilege, not a chore. To keep meals positive, don’t pressure in any way to eat.
Teach “no, thank you" rather than "YUK." Have your child leave the table if they behave badly.
Be family-friendly with meals. Pair unfamiliar with familiar food, and not-yet-liked with liked foods. Don't make special food just for your child that’s different from what the rest of the family is eating.
Include one or two side-dish foods that your child ordinarily eats, such as bread, fruit, or milk. Don’t offer cereal, peanut butter, or other alternative entrées.
Let your child pick and choose from what you put on the table, even if they choose to eat five slices of bread and nothing else.
Avoid feeding errors.
- Failing to have structured meals and snacks and/or letting them eat or drink (except for water) whenever they want to between meals;
- Talking about your child’s food likes and dislikes;
- Limiting the menu to food your child readily accepts;
- Putting pressure in any way on eating.
The Child Who Doesn't Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Some children don't eat vegetables; others don't eat fruits. Still others don't eat either! If your child turns down either - or both - you are likely to be concerned because you have learned that they are important. First of all, relax. Fruits and vegetables carry the same nutrients, so a child can be well-nourished on either. Second, back off. Pressure - even nice pressure such as bribes and cheerleading - doesn't help. Your child thinks, ''If they have to do all that to get me to eat it, it can't be good.'' Third, enjoy the food yourself. It may take years, but if you maintain a division of responsibility, sooner or later your child will learn to like the foods you enjoy. Keep in mind the word is enjoy. If you force food down because it is good for you, your child will know that and not learn to like it.
Keep these thoughts and strategies in mind about your child's learning to enjoy vegetables and fruits (as well as other unfamiliar foods):
- Get started with family meals, if you aren't having them already. Maintain a division of responsibility in feeding;
- Observe. Your child sneaks up on new foods: They help you cook it but won’t eat it, watches you eat it but doesn't eat it, puts it in their mouth and takes it out again;
- Interpret. Your child's sneaking-up behaviour is a sign of learning to like new foods, not rejecting them;
- Persist. Most children and grownups learn to like new food after they have done the sneaking-up bit 15 or 20 times - or more! Most cooks give up on a food after three turn-downs;
- Flavour. Tone down strong tastes with salt, fat, sauces, bread crumbs, herbs, and spices.
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