Trying to feed your child who is refusing to eat their fruits and veggies or outright refusing to eat anything you put on their plate is a frustrating ordeal. You are so close to giving up on mealtimes and you might even start doubting your capabilities as a parent. That’s understandable.
It can be defeating to see them reject their plate after spending all that time preparing their meal. After all, you spent months going through the first baby checklist, making sure they’re healthy and hitting their milestones, and you want to provide nutrient-rich food to help your child grow. But don’t fret! With a few simple changes in your mealtime routine, you and your child can start enjoying your food peacefully, most of the time.
Why is Your Child Being a Picky Eater?
It should be acknowledged that as children grow, their eating patterns become random and unpredictable, Sarah Remmer says. Refusing to eat certain foods could also be their way of practicing independence as it is the one area of their lives where they can exert some level of control. And as frustrating as it is, it is completely normal.
While some children refuse to eat certain food simply because they have a problem with its color or texture, other factors could be beyond the food on their plate.
Kids might feel pressured, sensing how agitated their parents get come mealtime and the kid doesn’t eat the way the parents want to. You may be pushing food closer to them, spoon-feeding them to get them to eat, or even discussing your frustrations about their lack of eating. This unknowingly creates pressure on the child and their response is to push back by refusing.
They may also feel like they have no say over what they eat. They could be bored of certain foods or perhaps they don’t want to try anything new right now and would prefer easing into it. Perhaps the portions are too big and they have no say on how much or how little they get.
Other reasons could be that they ate too many snacks prior, or drank too much milk or juice. It could also be what they feel on a physical level, perhaps they’re too tired, they’re distracted, or they’re simply not feeling well.
Tips to Address Picky Eating in Children
1. Respect Your Child’s Appetite
Your child is starting to learn to listen to their innate hunger cues. Trusting their physical hunger cues and becoming intuitive with their eating is one way to help them develop a healthy relationship with eating.
Avoid incentivizing them with dessert, comparing them to their sibling or friend, restricting their access to toys or fun, exerting your power over them, and diverting their attention to entertainment so they can eat. These are not helping your child in the long run. Sure, you may get results immediately, but these may lead to your child’s association of mealtime with anxiety and frustration.
Mayo Clinic suggests serving small portions and allowing your child to exercise their independence by allowing them to ask for more on their own. This way, you don’t overwhelm your kid and help them trust their hunger cues. And as difficult as it is to accept, sometimes “I’m not hungry” is an acceptable reason, but remind your child that the kitchen will be closed after mealtime and they need to understand the repercussions of that.
2. Include Them in Meal Prep
Have your child be involved in the shopping, preparing, cooking, or serving of their meals. By having them help, even with tasks as simple as tossing in and mixing ingredients or setting the table, they have a say in what they eat or how they eat.
Also, consider their input about what they would like to eat next if they are bored of certain foods or if they would like to change things up with the way their food is plated. Still keep in mind that you are the provider, deciding the “what, when, and where” of meals, but now you consider your child’s voice when needed. Sure, this may add extra time in the food preparation but it will help manage frustrations come mealtime.
3. Stick to a Routine
Be mindful about the times you serve meals and snacks. Perhaps your child likes a particular plate or they have a favorite cup. Choose a comfortable high chair for your toddler, or let your older child pick out a cushion so they could sit comfortably during meal times. The consistency will also let them feel less overwhelmed if they are introduced to a new food.
Use the schedule as an opportunity to also insert nutrient-rich food in their snacks should they decide to skip out or eat less during meals. Do note that filling up on juice, milk, or snacks will affect their appetite for meals so keep the proportions appropriate.
4. Make it Fun
Whether it’s making vegetables more exciting with their favorite dip or cutting food into fun shapes, any means to make food more appealing oftentimes do the trick. You can also serve meals in a family-style where your kid can decide on their proportions and they can decide how it looks on their plate and how much they want a certain food.
When introducing new food, you can make it fun by giving them the option to touch, smell, mush, stack, lick, or taste the new food. By exploring the new food with their other senses other than just directly having it in their mouth, they are less daunted by the foreign food.
5. Be Patient
You and your child are navigating this together and it can be frustrating for both parties. As their parent, be patient with them and guide and help them through it. It will not be easy but nurturing your kid’s healthy relationship with food is vital. You will not get it perfect every day, but your consistency will help in your child’s growth tremendously.