Working with young children continues to be one of the best things in my life. Promoting creative independence and healthy habits was very rewarding as a preschool teacher. It is also fulfilling to have tips handy to stressed-out parents of toddlers during their terrible twos and threes. One topic that I'm continually asked about is how to feed picky eaters.
Here are some tips that may help:
Schedule - Eating at the same time every day can help give one's child autonomy with knowing what to expect next. Structure is very important in establishing good habits with our little ones. It also can help eliminate power struggles with parents constantly having to tell children what to do. When a child knows what to do, there can be more cooperation and less stress in the family.
Small portions - It may be less of a challenge having children finish smaller portions. This can also promote independence and language through spontaneously asking for more. Finishing small meals can also help make a child feel more successful instead of feeling shame for not finishing a larger meal.
One bite rule - With picky eaters, introducing new foods will take time and patience. Having a one bite rule can help facilitate taste buds to newer foods every day. It can also help children with openness to trying new things in general.
Make it appealing - Arranging the food in a fun way can help children try new tastes. Consider if you'd eat what you just made. Sample: 30 Easy Bento Box Recipes
Model the behavior - Try eating the same foods during meal time. It sets the expected behavior for the family. Eating the same foods may also reduce a potential power struggle with forcing children to eat foods parents are not.
- If parents want their children to eat vegetables, but are snacking on ice cream sandwiches, chips, and drinking soda all day, children may learn a double standard at home with eating.
- Children may be more likely to eat what they see their parents eating.
Make it social - Some may think leaving a child with food and the TV on is enough. If a child is a picky eater, promoting a positive relationship with meal time can increase the trying of new foods. Sit together with all electronics turned OFF. Have conversations and connect.
- Family time can help encourage a child to look forward to meal time, as well as increase positive attention for sitting nicely, using manners, and eating with the family.
Ask your child for help - Children learn by watching. They also learn by doing. Incorporating one's child in the cooking process can help promote a positive association with meal time.
- A young child can help set napkins on the table, carry some fruits or vegetables to a bowl, mix a salad or spoon some sauce into a dish. Be creative and open!
Do not punish problematic eating - It may associate meal time with negative feelings. Food may be seen as a punishment for one's child, and may promote problems with food in the future.
- If children are not eating the preferred food, leave healthy options accessible. When children are hungry, they will eat, and if healthy options are the only options available, they will eat these choices.
- If children are being rewarded for not eating by being allowed to play instead or eat preferred sweets, this can start a long power struggle and unhealthy eating habits.
photo source for Lunch #51: Instagram user Susan K.
photo source for school lunch: Me :)