“No, no, no”…How many times have you heard your child say that at the dinner table? All of a sudden your child has become picky about what they eat. Every meal you offer them, they simply refuse, especially when you have tried everything to encourage them to eat. As a parent it’s only natural that you would want your child to eat but instead of forcing, you should try to find out why your child is refusing their meal.
Commonly a child becomes “picky” about their food between the ages of 2 and 6 years old. Although it can begin to be a real worry for you, as a parent, it’s actually quite typical behavior for your child’s age. Your child starts to eat according to their own natural instincts which at times can be a little frustrating for you, especially when you have to deal with your child being picky during mealtimes.
Why Your Child Is Picky
It is fairly typical behaviour for your child to refuse food or become picky about what they eat. Yes, even if you have slaved away in the kitchen, cooking your child’s favourite meal, there will come a time when they will simply say “no”.
Children like to gain control and assert themselves, choosing whether or not they eat, is a small piece of control that they can use. See, in the end, you are not the only one who can say “no” in your family. This is not the only reason your child may be a picky eater. Here are some causes that could determine why your child is a picky eater:
- Dislikes The Food – Your child could just not like the food you are offering them. It could be that the smell, taste, texture or the color may not be appealing causing your child to become a picky eater. Even though you may be serving a healthy nutritious meal, your child has already begun to realize which foods they like or dislike. You can always “hide” a specific food that they don’t like within a meal. For e.g. if your child doesn't like zucchini, blend it and add it to pasta sauce.
- Playing Around – Your child may simply refuse their meal because they know how frustrated and angry it will make you…rebellion at its youngest right. It’s good to set up some boundaries around meal times. Such as keeping the TV off and making everyone sit down at the table, even if they don’t want to eat (my mum did that trick with me and in the end I always ate).
- Food Has Changed – Most young children don’t like change. They enjoy what they are used to eating. When you begin to introduce new foods, naturally they will be a little hesitant about it. Try and introduce new foods one at a time, rather than all at once and encourage your child to try it. Also you may have to change the texture of the meal to make it more appealing. Such as cutting it into smaller pieces (or) limiting the portion size.
- Not Hungry – It could be that your child isn't hungry. They may not have eaten much during the day but they are still full of energy. Just know that a child will always eat when they are hungry. Try and limit snacks during the day, especially an hour before meals are served.
- Prefers Junk Foods – There are so many attractive ads and gimmicks (about food) that your child may watch on TV. It’s not uncommon for your child to want junk foods rather than a home cooked meal. In this case, try to give your child the home cooked version of the junk food they want. For e.g. if your child wants a burger than make a home cooked burger. They are fairly easy to do and you most probably have all the ingredients in your fridge already. Add a glass of orange juice and home baked fries in the oven. A yummy home cooked meal that will keep your picky eater happy…
Dealing With A Picky Eater
Sometimes you may have tried everything you can think of to encourage your child to eat. You've tried reading stories, imitating characters, setting rules, explaining how important it is to eat food but nothing seems to be working. It definitely can make meal times unpleasant and can often turn into a nightmare for you and your child. Although picky eating is often a passing phase, it can also develop into a long term trait. Here are some ways you can target picky eating:
- Provide Choices – Your child will be more interested in eating what is in front of them, when they have selected it themselves. Try and let your child pick from a very limited range of meal options. For e.g. if you cooked roasted vegetables (potato & pumpkin), ask your child which vegetable they would like, rather than both.
- Get Your Child Involved – Encourage your child to help prepare the meal. Depending on their age you can find simple ways to include your child in preparing the meal. Such as mixing ingredients and shredding vegetables. The more your child involves themselves in the preparation the more likely they would eat it.
- Small Portions – Your child may be put off by a portion that seems very large, so offer a small portion first and if they finish it, they can have a second helping.
- Introduce New Foods Slowly – Start mixing small amounts of new food with something else. Slowly increase the amount you disguise in this way. When your child begins to eat this amount without commenting, show them the new food and put a small amount on their plate. Encourage your child to try it and give them lots of praise when they do.
- Positive Reinforcement – Try to avoid commenting about how much your child ate. For instance, “Well done, you ate up the whole plate of food”. By focusing on how much your child eats, conveys a message that you are not satisfied unless your child eats the whole amount of food on their plate and you will be disappointed if they don’t. It’s not up to you to determine how much your child eats. Instead, at the end of the meal tell your child how much you enjoyed having a relaxed time with them.
Even though at times your child will drive you crazy with their picky eating, remember it’s only temporary and it’s just a passing phase and soon enough they will be back to eating whatever you put in front of them. However there are few things, which should be avoided by you, if your child is a picky eater. This may become easier in handling your child’s eating habits.
- Don’t prepare separate meals for your child. Prepare a healthy meal for everyone in the family. Your child should eat the same meal as everyone else.
- Avoid forcing your child to eat. Let them eat whatever they want (except junk food) and how much they want. If your child hasn't had a second helping, then don’t worry about it.
- Don’t use food as a punishment. It’s ok for your child not to taste certain foods if they don’t want to and avoid commenting to your child about not eating well.
- It’s not a good idea to offer drinks or snacks before meals. This can cause your child to become full and not want to eat their meal. Its best just to have water on the table and don’t offer drinks until the end of the meal.
- Try not to offer dessert as a bribe or a reward (although it can be the only thing that works sometimes). For e.g. “If you finish all your carrots, you can have a cookie”.
- Don’t make your child eat alone. Sit with them and let the whole family eat meals together at a regular time.
- Most important try to remain calm when your child refuses to eat. Be patient and keep trying.
Although your child may be causing you real worry, in most cases your child doesn't truly even have an eating problem, just a normal part of their behaviour. By implementing the techniques listed in this article, it can relieve a lot of your worrying and mealtime struggles.