If your experience as the parent of a picky eater is like mine, you're an expert on what doesn't work. You've tried just about everything and NOTHING WORKS!
So why spend time reminding you of what doesn't work?
Don't worry, I'm not here to scold you or tell you that what you've done has caused picky eating or that you are to blame. If you remember, even as an expert in pediatric nutrition, I had a huge serving of humble pie with my older (and VERY picky) son.
The reason I'm sharing with you what doesn't work is to help you start to peel back the stress and struggle you currently experience around feeding your child. In order to turn around picky eating, you need to be given permission to let go.
What we tend to focus on is getting our child to eat certain foods or food groups. But the truth is, raising a happy, healthy eater is far more than eating bites of green vegetables or meat.
Our most important job is to help our child have a healthy relationship with food. This means that they are able to choose foods they enjoy (yes, even vegetables and meat) and eat them in amounts they find satisfying (not a required amount to have dessert or their iPad).
The problem is that our well-intended efforts to help our picky eater can be making things worse.
Picky Eating Mistakes
Here are the three most common mistakes parents make that sabotage a healthy relationship with food and contribute to picky eating.
1. Using pressure such as bribes, rewards and praise
2. Not following a schedule for meals and snacks
3. Being a short-order cook and preparing a separate meal
The good news is that these mistakes are easy to fix and that most families see a huge improvement in their child's eating when they take specific actions to address these three areas.
Mistake 1: Pressuring Your Child
What's wrong with cheering for a bite of broccoli or requiring a bite of a certain food in order to have dessert?
Does pressure work? ….yes, well sort-of….
It depends on how you define “work.”
If getting your child to consume the correct number of vegetables each day is the goal, then you’ve hit the mark.
However, research shows that pressure has effects that are less desirable, too. Children may eat a food under pressure, but are less likely to prefer the food.
Pressure creates a short-term win, but creates a long-term obstacle to helping your child have a healthy relationship with food.
What this means is that we must keep a long term outlook and provide no-pressure opportunities to try foods (including vegetables).
This means serving them at meals and snacks and keeping the response neutral.
No need to cheer a bite of veggies anymore than we would a cookie. Pressure can also come in the form of a desire to please you. Food is just food.
Teaching our children to be competent eaters and helping them have a healthy relationship with food is a long term goal. It doesn’t have the same immediate satisfaction of seeing a bite of vegetables consumed.
I know it is hard to keep things in perspective when veggies have been on refuse “repeat." You may fear that your child will NEVER eat vegetables without pressure.
However, will your child learn to enjoy eating vegetables if it is learned under pressure? Research says no!
The key to a successful, positive environment for meals is to NOT pressure your child to eat.
When you apply pressure (even subtle pressure), you create stress for both your child and you, and contribute to picky eating behaviors.
To learn no pressure ways to help your picky eater, check out this article I wrote on the topic.
Mistake 2: Not Following a Schedule for Meals and Snacks
Does your child eat on a schedule?
A feeding schedule helps your child eat better.
Why? Children that graze throughout the day have a higher incidence of picky eating.
One of the first things I talk with my clients with young kids about, is the family’s schedule for meals and snacks. With the hectic nature of life, it’s easy lack needed routine.
A common mistake I see parents make is offering a snack after a meal when they are concerned their child didn’t eat well.
This approach can contribute to picky eating behaviors. It can also make it more difficult for your child to develop an ability to recognize and respond to hunger and satiety cues.
If you remember, our goal is to help our child develop a healthy relationship with food. This means fostering the ability to respond to hunger and satiety. Picky eating is often dramatically reduced when a schedule is implemented.
If you are struggling to develop and stick to a feeding schedule, this article provides a 5-step plan to implement a schedule.
Mistake 3: Being a Short Order Cook
But he won't eat anything else!
If you find yourself in the situation of preparing a special food or meal for your picky eater, you're not alone!
Short order cooking is one of the most common ways we cope with picky eating. Typically out of sheer exhaustion and concern for our child, we get into a routine of preparing a separate meal or food.
There is nothing wrong with serving your child a preferred food at meals. The prior statement is really important and a huge block that prevents many parents from making real progress with helping their picky eater. I'm going to state it again.
There is nothing wrong with serving your child a preferred food at meals.
In fact, every meal and snack you serve to your child should include a preferred food. Does this mean that you have permission to serve pasta, chips, macaroni and cheese or breaded chicken bites with every meal?
Sort of... Let me explain. Stick with me on this one as it will take a bit of background information.
Family meals are the building blocks for raising a happy, healthy eater. They give your child the opportunity to be exposed to new foods, you teach through role modeling food choices, and have quality time for conversation and connection.
As we learned from mistakes #1 and 2, having no-pressure meals and a schedule for meals and snacks are essential prerequisites for successful family meals.
Let's revisit the the topic of preferred foods. Meals should ALWAYS include one of your child's preferred foods. The key however, is to serve this food as part of the family meal not as a separate food/meal for your picky eater.
The expectation with family meals is not that your child will eat all the food on his/her plate or even take a taste or smell. Resist the urge to pressure your child. Remember that the key to a successful, positive environment for meals is to NOT pressure your child to eat.
For some children, it is necessary to use a divided plate or put new foods on a separate plate or place mat and slowly work up to having new foods on the same plate.
I recommend serving meals family style as it gives your child a chance for more exposure to new foods. By serving their own food (even children as young as 2 can participate in serving food), children have the opportunity to see, smell and interact with new foods. Over time and with repeated exposure and role modeling, your child will learn to eat new foods.
The key to avoiding mistake #3 of cooking a separate meal or being a short order cook is to prepare and plan meals that ALWAYS include a preferred food. This article offers even more insight on how to end short order cooking.
Conclusion - Picky Eating Mistakes
By exposing your child to new foods, creating a no pressure environment and a using a consistent schedule, you will find that your picky eater will begin to explore new foods and flavors.
If this sounds like it won't work for your child, I challenge you to give it a try for 2 weeks. You will be surprised by the dramatic changes you'll see in your child. What will probably shock you even more is how much less stress YOU will experience related to meals.
If you are ready to make changes that can help your picky eater, but aren't quite sure how to get started, book a complimentary discovery call where I can answer your questions and offer you personalized recommendations.
You can raise a happy, healthy eater without doubt and struggle!
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