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Kids can be picky eaters. Some children eat very well and will try a variety of foods, while others tend to be the “macaroni and cheese for dinner every night” types. For those parents whose children are willing to try and eat diverse foods, this blog may not pertain to you. However, feel free to offer suggestions and advice to those parents who are struggling with picky eaters at home. So why are some children pickier than others when it comes to the food department? There are many theories
about this including genetics and being a more sensitive child, but parents often have little control over these factors. What parents do have control over is their own behavior; that is, exposing children to and modeling trying new foods.
Eating (or not eating, in this case) is often related to feeling in control. Toddlers and preschoolers who are just learning they are independent beings from their parents tend to assert their independence and control in various ways, such as saying “no” quite frequently, having temper tantrums, and refusing to complete certain tasks (going to bed, trying new foods, etc.). In order to avoid getting into food wars with your children, you must be willing to give up some of the control by offering your children choices. Try to avoid “all or nothing” rule setting (e.g. children must finish everything on their plate). Instead, offer your children choices that allow them to feel in control while at the same time exposing them to new foods. For example, say “Do you want to try two bites of sweet potatoes or two bites of broccoli? It’s your choice.” Next, model tasting for your children by saying, “I’m going to choose my sweet potatoes.” Rather than saying something such as “You must eat both your sweet potatoes and broccoli if you want to leave the table,” which will likely lead to a battle for control. If your children refuse to try the two bites, keep repeating the choices and ignore negotiation attempts.
Remember that exposure to new foods is key. How much of a particular food your children eat is less important. Your children may not necessarily like new foods at first, but over time, many children learn to expand their palates. One last point to consider is do not expect your children to eat something you’re not willing to eat. If you despise cauliflower, you must be at least willing to eat a few bites if you want your children to be exposed to this new food. This can be a great opportunity for modeling if you say something such as “I don’t really care for cauliflower, but it is so good for my body that I eat it sometimes to grow healthy and strong.” This type of statement and behavior models for your children that you are willing to try something even though it’s not the most scrumptious food in the world, which teaches tolerance and balancing of priorities (taste versus health).
Until next time, good luck and eat well!