I’m doing everything I can to feed my kids… and I might be a part of the picky eating problem? Urg!
As with anything else in life, I turned to books and experts to help me understand why my kids seem to be picky eaters and my friends’ kids the same age aren’t. If my own twins came out of the gate being great eaters, I probably would have never started this journey. I couldn’t understand why so many of my friend’s kids ate everything and why mine wouldn’t touch most food. No seriously, they wouldn’t even touch it.
I didn’t understand why my kids would put a dirty shoe in their mouth, but wouldn’t touch a grape or blueberry. We saw an Occupational Therapist that ruled out any sensory issues. My heart goes out to all the Mommas that are working with their little ones on their sensory issues.
As they ruled out sensory issues for my twins, I needed to figure out how to start tackling my kids’ eating. I went to a picky eating class and heard a mom say her 4-year-old only drinks smoothies, while another mom told how she runs around the house chasing her kid to take another bite of food. I knew I didn’t want to go down this path and I needed to get serious about my own children’s eating. The Occupational Therapist said it only gets harder and harder to change their habits. It’s not impossible- just harder.
I read more books and I started to understand that so much of our kid’s view of food is driven by us, the parents. Just last night, my husband wouldn’t taste something because it had cream cheese in it. Oh the horror! He even went on to say, “I don’t like things with cream cheese in them,” in front of our impressionable toddlers. Needless to say, this is a no, no. My husband is a picky eater and I was worried he’s going to pass some of this down to our kids subconsciously. Turns out I was right to be worried, and I’m happy to report hubby has quickly come around.
After reading book after book, here is what I learned to help teach your kids healthy eating habits that will last them a lifetime. This isn’t a complete list, but it’s a very important good start!
Check Out These Other Great Resources:
- Get Your Picky Eater to Eat Healthier. Professional Advice from a Registered Dietitian
- 20 Toddler Approved Healthy Snack Ideas. Offer a lot of Variety to Reduce Picky Eating.
- Top Picks: Gift Guide for 1 Year-Olds. Toys Your Kids Will Actually Play With!
Top Mealtime Habits to Start Now With Your Family:
- Modeling is incredibly important. Don’t model picky eating, if you don’t want a picky eater. We all have likes and dislikes by now, but it’s important not to pass them on to our kids. Let them figure out what they like and don’t like without your influence.
- Make mealtimes fun and enjoyable. Leave your frustrations and fights away from the table. Meals should bring a family together. It’s amazing how important it is for families to eat together. Studies show that kids will eat more in social settings.
- Don’t label yourself or your little one as a bad eater, picky eater, fussy eater, etc. People live up and down to their labels.
- Give kids healthy mealtime options that the whole family is eating. Do NOT allow yourself to become a short order cook. 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.
- Kids have small stomachs so make the calories count. Don’t let them fill up on filler foods like crackers, pretzels and pasta, which don’t add a lot of nutritional value, but are filling. On the other hand, don’t get so hung up on every calorie or if they are eating from all the food groups at every meal. It can make you crazy and studies show that overall kids don’t eat as well when the parents are too focused on hitting the food groups at each meal. Researchers show that it all evens out throughout a 30-day cycle and that is completely healthy.
- Don’t pressure your little ones to eat. Studies show that this actually makes them eat less and they will actually avoid the foods you are emphasizing. Have you noticed they do the opposite of what you are coaxing them to do? There is study after study about this. Be completely neutral about food. Check out this article about not passing along emotional eating to your kids.
- It’s your job to layout nutritious and yummy food and it’s their job to eat as much as their bodies need to grow. This teaches children to self-regulate, which is a life-long skill! Eating too much is also not a good thing with kids.
- Studies also show that the more attractive the meal is, the more your kids will eat it. Make the food yummy! Avoid bland foods. No one likes them, not even kids 😉
- If they don’t eat, DO NOT let them snack afterward. It just reinforces they do not need to eat their meal because they will get a snack later. You’ll need to gauge this one based on the age of your children and their communication abilities. Generally, around three years old, children can better understand natural consequences. And, yes, it’s ok if your kids are a little hungry. We are not talking about neglect, just the natural consequence of not eating the meal you prepared for them. Typically, if children have a small breakfast or lunch they’ll probably make up for it at dinnertime.
Don’t be overwhelmed.
Changing your feeding habits is like anything else with kids, hard at first. Think of when you first brought them home and how hard that was or if you’ve potty trained, then you know how hard that was too.
I know this list can seem overwhelming. Start by checking one off at a time. Once you start building new eating habits with the family, it will get much, much easier to roll to conquer the next one.
Why do all this?
You are doing it for the long-term success of your family. You are helping to make mealtimes more enjoyable for your whole family and feed your kids more nutritiously. All this can help them develop a healthy relationship with food and build nutritious and healthy habits to last a lifetime.