10 Tips to Cope with a Picky Eater
Whatever our age is, even we adults have different sized appetites; young children are no exception. Their appetites fluctuate and vary greatly. How many of you find that your little one eats very well one day and the next day he hardly eats anything? No doubt it can be worrying and frustrating when our little ones don’t really fancy eating.
Picky eater? Fussy eater? Problem eater?
If you did a quick Google search, you’re gonna be bombarded with many different terms – picky eater, fussy eater, problem eater, etc.
One thing for sure, your child will always eat if he’s hungry (well, provided that there’s no underlying medical condition). As long as he’s growing and gaining weight steadily, it’s best if you could just go with the flow. But if you’re worried, always consult your child’s pediatrician.
General rule of thumb is to follow your child’s cue, don’t force feed your child, and do your best to avoid full-blown meal time battles.
Having said so, let’s take a look at our 10 tips to cope with a picky eater. Yes, the key is to cope because you can’t change your child overnight. So, just breathe and cope. You’ll be fine.
1. Identify favorite foods
Try to identify at least one or two types of foods that your child will eat. Then, include it in your meal plans for your whole family. For example, let’s say he likes sweet potatoes. So you can cook a few dishes with sweet potatoes, for example, baked sweet potatoes, shepherd’s pie with mashed sweet potato, sweet potato soup, pasta with sweet potato gravy for the whole family. Use your imagination!
2. Make mealtimes enjoyable
The last thing you want are frustrated children and a frazzled you at the dining table. Try your best to hide your disappointment if your child pushes his food aside and refuses to eat. Experts always say, focus your attention on their good behavior. So even if they only eat a spoonful of the meal that you spent an hour preparing, give them praises. The goal is to make mealtimes less stressful and more enjoyable.
3. Be creative with the veggies
If your child refuses to eat vegetables, it’s not the end of the world. It’s time to play “hide-and-seek”! You can create recipes whereby vegetables are hidden, i.e. blended or mashed such as tomato and zucchini gravy, pasta with spinach and broccoli sauce, mashed potato with carrot, etc. If you don’t like the idea of hiding vegetables from your child, try serving the vegetables in the form of finger food such as corn-on-cob, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, baked zucchini fries/wedges or vegetables skewers.
4. Get them involved
Depending on your comfort level, you can try involving your children in meal planning and preparation. They can do simple tasks such as choose the vegetables, scrub the potatoes, or whisk an egg. What about letting them make their own pizza? You can prepare ingredients in bowls and let them choose their favorite toppings. Remember, children love to act like an adult so when you involve them in making decisions, they will be more cooperative when it comes to mealtimes.
5. Vary your food presentation
Try to make your child’s meal looks appetizing by serving them in bright and colorful plates and cutlery. You can also try experimenting with different food presentation such as serving mini meal portions in cute ramekins or baking salmon patties in the shape of little fishes. I’m sure your child will be thrilled!
6. Offer new foods with patience
Research shows that children may have to be offered a new food up to 20 times before they will accept it. Try offering new foods when you know your child is hungry, and hopefully more receptive. When introducing new food, start with small portions and eat together with them so that they can copy you.
7. Don’t succumb to force feeding
If your child is just playing with his food and refuses to eat, quietly remove his plate/bowl without showing your frustration. If he only wants to eat junk food, don’t fret. They will soon realize they can’t get their way as long as you don’t react to their whims. Most importantly, don’t force feed, bribe or threaten them to finish everything on their plate because you don’t want them to associate mealtimes with unhappy or fearful memories.
8. Limit snacks before mealtime
Do your best to limit snacks and drinks (including fruit juices) before mealtime because you don’t want them to become too full from snacks and refuse to eat their main meal after that. Avoid unhealthy snacks such as commercial potato chips, cookies or chocolate. Alternatively, keep a supply of nutritious snacks on standby such as fresh fruits, yogurt, homemade chicken or fish fingers.
9. Remove distractions such as mobile devices
Be a role model. When it’s mealtime, switch off the TV and remove all mobile devices from the dining area. Yes, that means no scrolling news feed whatsoever during mealtimes. By eliminating distractions, children will be able to focus on eating as they aren’t distracted or overstimulated.
10. Reward chart
Reward chart is great to build consistency. When they eat new food or behave well during mealtime, give them a sticker for their chart. Incentivize them further by telling them if they collect up to 10 stickers for example, they can get a prize. However, try not to reward them with desserts because this will only encourage bad eating habits.