You are not alone. Parenting the picky eater can be incredibly frustrating. Embracing the following parenting principles can ease the stress and make mealtimes happier for everyone!
1. Parent joyfully.
Research shows that when adults present a new food with a smile on their face, kids are much more likely to taste the new food! Besides, everyone just feels better when they smile.
2. Parent bravely.
Toddlers to teens get better nutrition with a dash of one extra ingredient — hunger. Just a pinch, not a lot. When kids come to the table a bit hungry, they are interested in tasting. Taking small tastes here and there gets kids on the path to adventurous eating. Before you know it, picky eating is history.
3. Parent patiently.
Shhhh…wait for your child to take the taste. Try not to cheerlead them through the process. Although it’s well-intentioned, directions like, “Try it! You’ll like it,” add pressure. Research shows kids will balk at that. Instead, chat about the characteristics of the food while you are eating your own portion. Comments like, “It’s crunchy,” or “Mmmm…. smells like cinnamon,” will spark conversation about the food — and that in turn will encourage kids to explore it. If the best they can do is just take a whiff and chat about cinnamon, that’s an excellent start!
4. Parent mindfully.
Be present and do your best to model healthy cooking habits. Make a choice to bring kids into the kitchen with you to help prep and cook meals together. Studies demonstrate that parents who engage with their kids in the kitchen boost the child’s interest and eventual love for a variety of foods.
5. Parent compassionately.
Think of a time when you had to try a new food. Perhaps it was an unusual dish at a friend’s house or something served to you in a different country. Did you dive right in and taste it? Probably not. You looked at it, smelled it and watched others at the table as they tasted it. You might have inspected it politely with your fork before taking that first, small taste. We approach new experiences — even new food — cautiously at first. Keep in mind that young children are constantly being exposed to new experiences, which can feel a bit overwhelming for them.
6. Parent consistently.
When family routines are predictable, and the parenting principles noted above are practiced in and out of the kitchen, kids know what to expect. Consistent parenting builds confidence in a child. That confidence spills over to activities throughout their day, including mealtimes.
7. Parent proactively.
If you have frequent concerns about your child’s eating habits, talk to your pediatrician, who can refer you to a feeding professional. It’s not unusual for a child to have a mild physiologic, sensory or motor challenge that can impact the ability to eat a variety of foods and that a speech language pathologist or occupational therapist can identify. Addressing concerns with a professional in pediatric feeding will reduce the stress for everyone and put an end to fussy eating.
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers and school-age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes (2018), are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist. Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including The New York Times, Huffington Post and Parents Magazine. Visit her at www.MelaniePotock.com for more articles, professional tips and helpful videos to raise your adventurous eater!
- A step-by-step introduction to vegetables at the beginning of complementary feeding. The effects of early and repeated exposure.
- Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables―with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes
- How emotions expressed by adults' faces affect the desire to eat liked and disliked foods in children compared to adults.
- Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating
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