Mealtimes can be a stressful experience for so many families, so if that the same in your home, don’t despair, you are in good company. There are a number of strategies that you can try to turn that feeling around in your home.
Set Realistic Goals For How Much Your Child Should Be Eating
It’s important for you to understand how much your child should be eating. Many pediatric nutritionists will tell parents they need to reset the expectation for how much food you should expect your child to eat in a sitting.
Reduce How Much Kid-Friendly Food Your Child Eats
Since children can eat so little food, it’s important that you focus on the quality of food that you are serving and not the quantity. Reduce how many
Reduce how many empty calories your child is eating (such as pretzels, crackers, and sweets) and replace them with nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. If you’re not sure how to get your child to eat more nutritiously dense foods then check out this article.
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Understanding Your Child’s Taste Buds Are Still Developing
Did you know that a child’s taste buds are more sensitive than yours? Over time our senses dull, especially our sense of taste.
Some children are picky eaters because they can be overwhelmed by flavors. Keep this in mind as you introduce foods to your child. Studies show that a child’s taste keeps changing, so don’t give up even after 10-20 introductions.
I know that can sound daunting, but it’s through repetition that your child can learn to like a new food. Relate this to teaching your child to speak, read and use the potty (all use repetition). Your child’s tastes are still developing!
Let your child develop to like flavorful foods and vegetables. If you put the hard work in now, you will have happy mealtimes in the future. You are laying the groundwork now.
Kids Don’t Know What They Want
There are studies that show how inconsistent children are when they tell you they like or don’t like a food. Researchers kept introducing the same foods to children over time and noticed that more and more of the children eventually said they liked the food.
So don’t give up! Keep offering a variety of foods to your child. He or she is much more likely to accept and grow to like what you are serving the more times you expose him or her to it.
Is Your Child Comfortable?
I know that sounds like a silly question, but you’d be surprised by all the ways your child could be uncomfortable. The chair they are sitting in doesn’t support good posture. Your child might be constipated or have other digestive issues that might be causing him not to be hungry. Is your child teething? These issues can inhibit your child from eating well.
My Child Gags Or Spits Food Out
Is your child still young? This can be a normal behavior for infants.
Is your child a toddler? If so, can your child have a sensory processing disorder or issues with food texture? Read more about both topics to see if that is what is causing your child to gag or spit out food.
Or your child has some sort of medical condition causing this. It’s important to get to the root of the issue, so your child doesn’t develop a negative relationship with food.
Turn Off Distractions
Turn off the TV. It’s true some kids will eat better in front of a TV, however, long-term you might be causing your child to become an overeater because he is distracted by the TV and not in tune with the messages his body is sending him about being full. Avoid having your child watch TV or have an iPad at the table!
For one, you can be teaching your child to mindless eat, which can lead to overeating and weight issues later in life. And, with almost 40% of kids overweight/obese and almost 70% of adults are overweight or obese, you want to reduce the chances that your child will become an overeater.
If you’re worried your child is already overweight, follow these steps to help your child lose weight safely.
Remove Anything Non-Food Related From The Table
Yes, remove toys and anything else that is non-food related off the table. You don’t want to distract your child so he or she is not focused on eating.
Trays, spoons, forks, plates and cups are all ok.
Everything that is not food related needs to go. You can be creating bad habits by allowing these items on the table and future fights about them. There may come a time where you don’t want the Lego® tower to be on the dinner table. It’s better to not build the habit now.
Plus, if you don’t teach your children at a young age the value of spending quality time together at the dinner table, don’t be surprised when you have the kids at 16 that can’t carry on a conversation at the dinner table. Habits start young!
Being Stressed Is Just Making It Worse
We start to take short cuts when we get worried our kids aren’t eating enough.
We start to offer our child less and less variety of foods in fear he will turn his nose up at the meal.
We start to stick to the few foods that we know he will eat like chicken nuggets, yogurt, pizza, etc. It becomes this vicious cycle and then you start to worry more and more about his eating because he is eating such a small variety of food. Eek! The cycle just gets worse and worse.
Your child will see your worry and take advantage of it by exerting more and more control over you. This then becomes a habit that is hard to break. It’s NOT impossible.
Check out the picky eating guide to walk you through all the steps to change your child from a ridged picky eater to an adventurous eater.
Picky eaters notice when you are stressed out about his or her eating. So do your best not to show that you’re stressed about how much food your child ate.
Are You Modeling Good Mealtime Habits?
Model the behavior you want your kids to do.
Eat vegetables in front of your kids!
Don’t show your dislike of certain foods. Often times when you don’t like something your kid won’t like it too.
Kids are little sponges taking in everything that we are doing and saying. Your child will often mimic your likes and dislikes. If you say you don’t like Brussels sprouts, your child will probably not like them too. Over time, he won’t even know why he doesn’t like Brussels sprouts.
Try to cook and eat a large variety of foods yourself. Kids need constant exposure to new foods and preparations of foods. Add spices and herbs to your dishes.
Is The Food Being Served Tasty? Avoid Bland Preparations
Don’t serve your child bland food and expect him to eat it. Kids want to enjoy the taste of food just as much as you do. Keep serving him savory foods with complex flavors and he will start to eat it.
Don’t Allow Yourself To Be A Short Order Cook!!!
Give kids healthy mealtime options that the whole family is eating. Do NOT allow yourself to become a short order cook.
And, if you are one already, stop! Your family will adjust to the new rule quickly. Your sanity is important too!
I’ve caught myself doing this. All of your kids must eat what you made them. I’ve found it is a good idea to offer a few different sides to ensure that the kids have a choice between a few different healthy options. They can have their genuine dislikes of food and that’s ok because I provided them with a few options. For example, I will make cauliflower casserole and green beans with bacon. They have two great options to choose from, plus, the main course.
How to Start Introducing New Vegetables and Fruits
It’s best to introduce a completely new food to a child as part of mealtime and not as a stand-alone snack.
This way the new food can be accompanied by at least one safe food that your child is familiar with and will eat. A safe food is a food your child would normally eat. This way your child will see a food he likes and this will take the pressure off having to eat the new food.
For some kids, the more pressure kids feel when it comes to trying a new food the more likely they are to eat less of the food overall. Go figure! This is an important rule! Don’t pressure your kids to eat the vegetables or another food you want them to eat. It almost always backfires.
Studies show that 70% of kids will not eat the food they felt the most pressure to eat by the time they get to college.
Still worried your child is an under-eater? Check out how to get under-eaters to eat more.
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