Being a foodie and married to a man that also loves to try and experiment with different foods, I do find picky eaters difficult to understand. Both me and my husband grew up having family meals. So family meals are part of our home. Being a RD, I have an absolute passion to see my kids eat...well, HEALTHY! Since having children I also learned that healthy eating is not something that just happens. I've tried many different methods to help my kids eat healthier. I've also made many mistakes, but have learned a lot... and still do!
Having a 17 month old girl that is starting to explore the new world of food and a almost 8 year old boy that is busy and wants to play all day and just love sweets, (Which 8 year old doesn't love sweets?) I am going to share with you some tips, that have worked for me.
My go-to expert on healthy infant eating and feeding is Registered Dietitian, Ellyn Satter, a pioneer in the field and the author of "Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense". Sutter is incredibly well respected in the Dietitian community for her practical, non-judgemental and successful strategies and advice, and I find my own professional POV well aligned with her general philosophies on mindful eating and body positivity.
With specific reference to child feeding, Satter claims that all kids can be “picky eaters” at the early stages of their life. So while it probably feels incredibly frustrating and you may worry you're doing something wrong, I think it's nice to know it's all completely normal. But does that mean your kid is only going to eat chicken fingers for the rest of their life and you're never going to get to serve broccoli to the family again unless it's drowned in cheese?
Picky eating is normal. You can’t get your child to eat, but you can help her resolve her negative feelings about eating. You can reassure her she doesn’t have to eat. That will allow her to develop positive attitudes about eating and help her learn to behave nicely at mealtime. After that, she will ever-so-gradually push herself along to learn to eat a greater variety of food.
Have regular meals and structured snacks. Then you child will be hungry and not starve comes mealtime. And that's what you want!
Have family meals and family-friendly meals. Pair unfamiliar with familiar food, not-yet-liked with liked foods. Don't make special food for her.
Do not pressure. Make meals a pleasure and a privilege and keep meals positive. Never pressure in ANYWAY whatsoever. (even if it's difficult...)
Let her pick and choose. She should choose what to eat from what you put on the table, even if she eats five slices of bread and nothing else. Your responsibility is to provide balanced healthy meals for her to choose from.
Teach her to take food out without swallowing. That's what napkins is for, isn't it?
Include ordinary foods. Pair unfamiliar with familiar food, not-yet-liked with liked foods. Don't make special food for her.
Don't be sneaky chef! Hiding those offensive ingredients can actually disrupt the trust between parent and child, and your kids will quickly catch on and refuse to eat. It also paints certain foods as “gross” foods that need to be disguised and other foods as “yummy” foods that need to be restricted. These dichotomies are a recipe for a distrustful relationship with food that can have life long implications. Baking that muffin that has pumpkin in or the blacken brownie is great! But you should not hide all 'healthy' foods, it should be incorporated into her choices comes mealtime.
Don't forget to enjoy mealtime yourself! As a role model, your children will feed off the positive pleasureable energy, so if they see you in a pleasant state enjoying your steamed broccoli, maybe they will enjoy it too.In the words of Satter, "the Cook has privileges!" Putting the time in to prep a delicious meal needs to be rewarding for everyone, including yourself!