Q: My kids are picky eaters. How can I get them to eat better?
A: Picky eaters cause more stress in my clients than perhaps Halloween candy overload or four holiday parties in one day.
One of the biggest frustrations I hear from parents is about slaving over healthy foods only to have their kiddos turn their nose at them.
You added pureed carrots to the marinara and they spit it out. You switched to whole wheat pasta and they twirled it but didn’t bite. You put the veggies in a happy face shape on their plate and they moved them around into a frown.
You’re really considering swapping your healthy diet efforts for the drive through so they can “at least have fuel.”
We all want our kids to be happy, confident and so many other things but first, we want to teach them how to eat healthy.
And, anything we can do to help that, come hell or high water, we’ll do. So, when they don’t adhere to our nutritious food efforts we sob in one way, shape or form.
I can help.
Monkey see, monkey do, mom and dad! You must set a good example. You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it twice, I’m telling you again: be a role model. Show, don’t tell.
Until your kids are teens, you are their role model (then you get to turn that honor over to Taylor Swift and Derek Jeter).
Kids watch their parents and mimic their behaviors, so you need to show them that you eat a healthy diet, that it’s normal to try a variety of foods, and what it looks like to taste something you don’t care for.
In short, show them with your actions how you would like them to behave and they will eventually follow your lead. Sometimes it’s helpful to think about food as analogous for life. We want our kids to be open minded and non judgemental. Make sure you are showing this attitude towards food like you to do to other seemingly more important topics. A balanced diet and a balanced life go hand in hand.
Here are 5 Do’s and Don’ts to turn your picky eaters into healthy eaters:
- Eat together. Aim for at least 3 meals together as a family per week. It doesn’t have to be dinner. Share a healthy breakfast (my favorite family meal!), brunch, lunch etc. This is your time to put role modeling into action.
- Shop together. Take your kids to the farmers market or grocery store and let them pick 1 new food to incorporate into a meal that week. Add to your food culture a day of the week when you try something you’ve never tried before. Just like you ask your daughter if she wants the blue shoes or the red ones, ask her if she’d like to try dragon fruit or kiwi. Giving a choice between two foods empowers your picky eaters in the decision making and may help them like a new food more.
- “Waste” food. Kids need to have healthy food available so they can try healthy food, even if they don’t end up eating these foods until years later. Put out multiple veggies at dinner and crudites at snack time, over and over and over again. And, you really don’t have to waste leftovers. Re-use those same foods in your meals if the kids don’t eat them. Kids need to see these foods to eventually eat them. On this note, be patient before you call your child ‘picky’ or get frustrated with them for seeming challenging: children may need to try a food 10-15 times before they begin to like it; this is biologically driven. So patience and a positive attitude are both important.
- Stop talking, just eat. Stop telling your kids what to eat. Just make healthy foods available and part of the norm for your kids. We don’t talk about brushing our teeth and how it is so healthy for us, we just do it and teach our kids to do it too. Have the same attitude towards broccoli.
- Serve a la your fave French restaurant. NO family style! Portion meals on plates in the kitchen before you sit down. Keep extra veggies on the table to serve for more but nothing else.
- Say diet. This is a sure way to send your child straight to therapy with a big whack to their confidence. Just don’t do it. No talk about “going on” or “being on” a diet.
- Reward with food. This is tough and I can’t say I’ve never done it. Oh, I’ve been there…But do your best to reward in other ways.
- Control your kids’ hunger cues. Isn’t it hard enough to control our own? Let your kids “listen” to their bodies. Once we encourage “cleaning the plate” we are one step away from using the “D” word!
- Isolate your “picky” or overweight child. The entire family needs to be on board for healthy eating. Your overweight child is not served broccoli while your lean child is given french fries.
- Deprive your child of cake. No matter how overweight or picky of an eater your child is, to deny a kid cake at a child’s birthday party is setting that child up for years of closet eating and emotional eating. It’s ok to not allow 2 pieces, but please, do not tell your kid they can’t eat a cupcake at a birthday party.
Eating is strongly influenced by social relationships, culture and environment.
While it is perfectly normal for kids to go through food jags where they like certain foods and kick former faves to the curb, how you parent your kids as they form their eating relationships is uber important in turning out healthy eaters, instead of lifelong picky eaters.
If you still have questions, just ask in the comments below or on social media @keriglassman — I’m here to help you!