My grandpa always said he was going to write a book about life, and the title was going to be “Ya think it’s easy?” He never did end up writing that book, but his message was clear. Life is not easy, and neither is raising or feeding kids. For many parents and caregivers feeding their kids presents a huge challenge, and not one that everyone is talking about. Parents of picky eaters might feel that others are judging their parenting style or perhaps be embarrassed of their child’s reaction to new foods. Even worse, they may feel that they did something wrong because of their child’s finicky eating habits.
So let’s get real. Feeding kids is hard! Between the ages of 18 months and 2 years, it is common for children’s eating habits to change. For some kids, it is a phase and they grow out of it. For others, the phase never ends and picky eating habits begin to evolve and eventually get worse. There is no one-page handout from the pediatrician’s office that will set you up to ensure your child will be a good eater for life. There are many differing views and opinions about the best way to feed kids, and it can be confusing to make sense of all of the information. Even when you know better about how to deal with a certain feeding situation at the dinner table, perhaps in the heat of the moment you do what you need to do to survive the meal. Suddenly your kids are only eating macaroni or chicken nuggets, and you aren’t quite sure how that happened.
If you are struggling with feeding your kids, here are 5 things to keep in mind.
- You are not alone.
Many parents have at least one complaint about the way their child eats. Perhaps they will only eat pizza if it is cut into triangles versus squares or maybe everything has to have a side of ketchup. If you have a picky eater at home, take comfort knowing that there are many parents going through the exact same thing. Accepting that you have a picky eater and sharing your experience allows you to commiserate with other parents who may be struggling with similar issues.
- It’s not your fault.
We can read as many books as we want on raising kids and get advice from everyone we know, but when it comes to parenting we simply learn as we go. Whether it’s potty training, sleep training, or feeding, each child has different needs and there is not one solution to a problem that will work for everyone. In the moment, we do what we feel is best for our child with the knowledge that we have and the options that we are provided. It is true that the decisions you have made in the past regarding how you fed your child may have played a role in the way your child eats today. However, you made those decisions because you had your child’s best interest in mind. You cannot fault yourself for this but you can move forward in a positive way.
- Relax and stay calm.
If your mealtimes feel like World War 3, it can be a very frustrating experience for everyone involved. Children are perceptive creatures. If you are frustrated they will pick up on it and it could exacerbate the issue. It would be better for you to sit down together at a meal and allow your child to eat nothing but bread, rather than arguing the entire time just so they will take one bite of broccoli. If you can relax, stay calm and do your best to make it a positive experience for everyone, it will be well worth watching them eat just the bread. Once you’ve created a peaceful dinner table experience you can then focus your attention on fixing the issue.
- Trust in your children.
We all have an innate ability to feel hunger and fullness. If allowed, children do a great job of listening and responding to these internal hunger cues. If your child says that they do not want any more food to eat but you force or bribe them to eat more, you are essentially teaching them to override their internal hunger cues. On one hand this can lead to overeating. On the other hand, the more you force a child to eat a certain food, the more likely this child is to refrain from eating it. Now you’ve got yourself a picky eater. Allow your child to regulate how much food they are going to eat. If this means only eating a clementine for dinner, like my son did just the other night, then that’s okay!
- Seek help.
If you notice your child’s eating habits have gotten progressively worse and are concerned that they are not meeting their nutritional needs, reach out for help! Talk with a close friend who has a child that you consider to have good eating habits and find out more about how they feed their kids. Seek out a Registered Dietitian who focuses on working with picky eaters, or a speech therapist with experience in oral food aversions (fear, avoidance or reluctance to eat due to an uncomfortable sensation in or around the mouth). For more information or for questions, contact me at Andrea@YourFamilyRD.com.
Share some of your kids’ craziest picky eating habits in the comments section below! What have you done to get through it?