There is one experience that most parents share at one point or another in their parenting journey: picky eaters.
Having a picky eater – a child with very limited food choices or unwilling to try new foods – can be very frustrating, expensive and worrying. Of course, there are some conditions out there that can make a child reluctant to eat a wide range of foods; autism, for example, and it is important to deal with this slightly differently. However, if you have a neurotypical child who suddenly decides that they don’t like the sausages that they have always loved, and decide they only like pasta if it is in twirly shapes, here is a few ways of dealing with it.
Shift your mindset
We use the term picky eaters, but actually, that can sometimes be quite a damaging way of looking at it. Children, as they move into toddlerhood and beyond, become their own person but still have very little control over their day to day lives. One thing they can control is what they eat. You can serve them the food, you can encourage them to eat, but you can’t physically fore them to eat it.
Instead of trying to get your child to comply with what you expect of them when it comes to food, work with them to promote a healthy relationship with food. It can be easier said than done when balancing a family, work and thinking about your finances, but by shifting your mindset from ‘they are being picky and difficult’ to ‘they are being developmentally appropriate’, it can make those frustrating times easier to handle.
Meal plan WITH them, not for them
When you sit down to plan your meals for the week, ask them to help you and give you some input. Accommodate some of their preferences – but you do not always have to cater for them. For example, if they are begging you for a chinese takeout and you know they will eat the chow mein, why not look at making your own version at home – they can help you source the ingredients from an asian grocery delivery store, find recipes online and cook it. You can adapt it a little – sneak a few extra veggies in, leave out the salt and so on.
Encourage them to taste, not eat
As adults, we can choose what we make for our meals. Children do not have the same freedom. They have what we give them, and if you don’t like something – really don’t like something – that can be difficult, especially if someone is constantly badgering you to ‘eat all that broccoli’. Instead of encouraging them to eat it, encourage them to taste it. Put it on their plate, but remove the pressure to eat it all. If they just taste it, reward them (with something non-food related) and move on. Keep doing that as it can take 15 to 20 exposures to new foods to like it.
Picky eaters can be frustrating, but remember, it is also very normal. Take the pressure off, give them choice over their food and shift your mindset, and you never know – they may be demolishing that broccoli before you know it.