Dealing with a picky eater can be at the top of the list for most frustrating fights as a parent. As someone who has made health and wellness their life, this was a challenge I did not see coming. Convincing a grown adult that junk food is bad for them is tough, but trying to get my kids to eat well can be even more of a challenge. Having a 4 and 2 year old has opened my eyes to a whole new world of food challenges. Here are some important lessons I’ve learned, which should help you guide your kids to eat better.
Make a schedule. Children need to eat every three to four hours: three meals, two snacks, and lots of fluids. If you plan for these, your child’s diet will be much more balanced. In turn, they will be less cranky because they won’t be famished. Always have snacks with you! I keep a cooler in the car when we are out and keep things like carrots, yogurt and water so we don’t have to rely on fast food.
Plan dinners. If thinking about a weekly menu is too daunting, start with two or three days at a time. A good dinner doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be balanced.
Don’t become a short order cook. This is the one thing I took a stand on before I had kids because I saw how exhausting it was on other parents. I prepare one meal for everybody. Children often mimic their parents’ behavior, so one of these days, they’ll eat most of the food I serve them. Remember, most picky eaters are made, not born.
Bite your tongue. As hard as this may be, try not to comment on what or how much your kids are eating. Be as neutral as possible. Remember, you’ve done your job as a parent by serving balanced meals; your kids are responsible for eating them. If you play food enforcer- saying things like “Eat your vegetables or you can’t leave the table” – your child will only resist.
Introduce new foods slowly. Children are new-food phobic by nature. I tell my kids that their taste buds sometimes have to get used to a flavor before they’ll like the taste. A little hero worship can work wonders too. My son refused to eat broccoli until I told him that hockey players always eat their broccoli because it helps them skate faster…he certainly eats his broccoli now!
Dip it. If your kids won’t eat vegetables, experiment with dips. My kids love hummus, salsa and yogurt-based dressings.
Make mornings count. This is where that meal planning comes in handy. Mornings can be crazy. If you prepare a big batch of breakfast burritos on the weekend and freeze them, you have breakfast for the whole week. It’s delicious, nutritious and easy.
Get kids cooking. If your children become involved in choosing or preparing meals, they’ll be more interested in eating what they’ve created. Take them to the store and let them choose produce for you. If they’re old enough, allow them to help cut up vegetables and fruit.
Cut back on junk. Remember, you, not your kids, are in charge of the foods that enter the house. By having fewer junk foods around, you’ll force your children to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Allow treats. Having less healthy foods occasionally keeps them from becoming forbidden-and thus more appealing. We call candy, juice, and cookies “sometimes” foods. I generally don’t buy cereal, but I let my kids have it when we visit family and they know it’s a treat.
Have fun. The more creative the meal is, the greater the variety of foods my kids eat. We make smiley face pancakes and give foods silly names. Anything mini is always a hit too.
Be a role model. If you’re constantly on a diet or have erratic eating habits, your children will grow up thinking that this sort of behavior is normal. Be honest with yourself about the kinds of food messages you’re sending. Trust your body to tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re full and your kids will learn to do the same.
Adjust your attitude. Realize that what your kids eat over time is what matters. Having popcorn at the movies or eating an ice cream sundae are some of life’s real pleasures. As long as you balance these times with smart food choices and physical activity, your children will be fine.
Best of luck,
Coach Amanda O.