When it comes to children and food, parents can face a variety of battles. Not understanding the importance of a healthy diet, they are not compelled to eat all the fruits and vegetables you put on their plate simply for this reason. Expanding the palette is not a top priority either and many children want to eat the same things—often not the healthiest things— all the time and are highly reluctant to try new foods. Picky eating can be cause for concern if you think your child is not getting adequate nutrition; it can also be a great source of frustration for parents who are sick of daily flights at the dinner table or functioning as a short-order cook. There is hope, however; with some patience and willingness to experiment with different strategies, you can more successfully deal with your finicky eater.
Try Softer Approaches
If trying to get your child to eat ‘’boring’’ foods like fruits and vegetables more often is a major issue, you may need to reconsider your strategy if you have not been successful. Studies examining the parenting techniques employed in trying to get children to eat healthier have found that proactive approaches are more successful than reactive approaches that involve working against the child’s reluctance to eat the foods.
Examples of proactive approaches include getting a child to try new food without making them finish it, allowing them to pick foods and help prepare them, serving as a good example of healthy eating, and making fruits and vegetables more readily available for consumption. Examples of reactive approaches include not allowing children to eat ‘’junk food’’ ever or completely removing it from the house, altering foods to make them more palatable to the child, or threatening some sort of punishment for not eating the foods, such as withholding dessert.
When we think of food, we have a lot of fixed ideas about what we are supposed to eat when and many foods have been designated as ‘’breakfast’’, ‘’lunch’’ or ‘’ dinner.’’ But, this is largely arbitrary, especially to children. When it comes to dealing with a picky eater, being more flexible about what foods the child can eat at each meal may help deal with her pickiness. There is nothing wrong with having cereal, or eggs and hash browns for dinner, and pizza for breakfast if that is what your child really wants; this is preferable to not eating at all. This is not to say that you should fulfill every request every time, and constantly be preparing separate meals, but if this will make it easier to get your child to eat, it is something worth considering.
Work with Your Child’s Appetite
If your child is not eating due to lack of appetite, that can be a cause of concern for parents, and you may feel compelled to force your child to eat. This can lead to a number of problems; it can start or worsen power struggles concerning you, your child, and his diet. It can also cause your child to equate meal times with frustration and anxiety. If your child says he is not hungry, do not force food. Avoid bribing or bargaining to compel her to eat. Just put a little bit of food out and she will do what she will with it. If the appetite thing is big with your kid, you also want to consider letting him eat when he expresses he is hungry rather than making him wait.
Get Your Child Involved
Getting your child involved in the selection and preparation of food is a great way to deal with picky eaters. Enlist their help in picking out healthy foods in the grocery store; this will probably lead to your child wanting you to buy things you do not want, so you need to find a way to effectively deal with that issue if it arises. There is no better way to get them to eat than to buy things you know they want and if they are picking it, they want it. At home, have them help you prepare food—they can do simple tasks like washing the lettuce for the salad or stirring the pancake batter. Your child will be much more likely to eat something he had a hand in creating.
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