A picky eater can create tension and unpleasant nights at the dinner table. Here’s how you can create a more positive experience where everyone’s company is enjoyed.
BY: MARCY GASTON, MS, RD, CD
I am sure there are many parents out there who can relate to this scenario: A picky eater lurks around the dinner table picking out every last pea out of the pasta dish.
Should you worry? Will your child get enough nutrition? What do I do if my child does not want to eat his vegetables? Force them? Bribe them?
Research by feeding expert Ellyn Satter has shown that creating a positive feeding environment is better for the child, and better for you as the parent. The parent is “responsible for what, when, and where” to eat, while the child (toddler or adolescent) is “responsible for how much and whether” to eat.
So, how do you do it?
Offer healthy food (vegetables, fruit) at each meal.
If kids see the vegetables at each meal, they will start to realize that this is the norm. Eventually, they’ll come around and start trying new foods. And remember to lead by example. Kids mimic their parents. So, if they see you eating the healthy foods, they’ll likely follow suit.
Encourage children to listen to their body.
I grew up in a family that prized the “clean plate club.” Kids should be able to step back from the plate when they feel full. They need to learn from their internal cues when to stop eating, even if they have not finished their green beans yet.
Figure out how kids like their vegetables cooked.
Pay attention to which vegetables they are willing to try; for example, you may realize your child likes vegetables pureed in soups. Once you can identify these different cooking methods, introduce more vegetables and encourage them to explore different foods. Over time, your child will move from only eating vegetables in soup to eating them as a side dish.
Do not bribe your child into eating healthy.
I think parents fall into the bribe trap too many times. “If you eat the broccoli, you can have ice cream for dessert.” Sound familiar? This puts broccoli in a negative light and ice cream in the positive. Ice cream already has a lot going for it. Do not pit vegetables against ice cream. Ice cream will always win.
Be positive and pick your battles.
Keep the dinner table a battle-free zone. You’ve worked hard getting a good meal on the table, so you feel the need to make sure everyone enjoys it. If your child does not want to eat everything you’ve served, that’s ok. Keep things positive. Meal time should be fun and offer the chance for the family to catch up on the day’s events, not fighting about whether or not your child is eating all her carrots.
Encourage your child to explore the world of food, not just vegetables.
Bring in different flavors and textures from around the world. Use the spice cabinet to introduce different cuisines. Have a special night dedicated to certain cuisines for variety, like Greek, Indian, Italian, or Thai.
Grow vegetables in your backyard (or porch) or take the kids to the farmer’s market.
Let them see how fruits and vegetables are grown. They will be more likely to try something if they’ve grown it or picked it themselves.
Let your picky eater help with meal time.
Cooking is a skill that should be taught early in life, so that kids will grow up with an appreciation for food. Ok, so that’s the food-nerd in me talking, but the more the kids are around food either growing it or preparing it, the more likely they will be to try new things.
So, don’t fret. Your picky eater will come around eventually. My own son has started to eat carrots without even knowing (they hide in my cream of tomato soup). Shhh… don’t tell him.
Marcy Gaston, MS, RD, CD is a private practice dietitian and chef based in Whidbey Island, WA. With a focus on integrating cooking and sustainability, Marcy guides individuals towards healthy eating habits that mutually support the food system in order to protect future generations to come.