The Picky Eater! How Do I Get My Child To Eat Healthy Food?
Most children demonstrate a certain level of food pickiness. It is often a demonstration of power and control as opposed to a true distaste for all vegetables, all green foods or anything that looks funny. Generally, as a parent ensuring your child is fed, full and happy provides you with a sense of maternal/paternal satisfaction. The trouble is, children are smart and do realize that with their desire for control and your desire to keep them fed and full, they can BECOME picky eaters. Often picky eating starts around 2 years of age, when children learn the word “no” and start to demonstrate preferences and the need to control their surroundings. Children understand that they have full control of what they put into their mouths to eat and will use this as a method to demonstrate their desire for control.
So, how do you make your picky eater, eat? These rules for meal time should apply to all children to create healthy eaters. The first rule to remember is, in healthy children they have an innate ability to follow their own cue for hunger and fullness. It is important to allow them to follow those natural cues when it comes to eating. Children that over eat or are able to eat beyond fullness are shown to become unhealthy eaters as adults with an increased risk of obesity. To make a healthy eater,
- Give your child a 15 minute warning before mealtime. If you tear them away from the immaculate Lego tower they have been building for 2 hours to eat dinner, they will get very upset and will not eat their meal because their focus is elsewhere. Give them a warning so they can slowly transition to meal time and away from their current activity.
- You are in charge of the quality of the food you provide your child, but they are in charge of the quantity. Their portion sizes and the food that is put on their plate is up to you (and guided by Canada’s food guide) but once the plate is in front of the child, they are allow to eat as much or as little of the food that is on their plate as they desire. Keep in mind, with the appropriate portions, your child should not get full on just the pasta, or just the bread, it should take the ENTIRE plate of food for them to get full. They should also not get seconds until they finish what is on their plate. This will ensure they maintain a well-rounded diet and don’t simply eat the pasta and continue to get servings of pasta despite the broccoli sitting on the plate.
- There should be no punishment or rewards for mealtime. Children should not be told that if they finish their meal, they get dessert or if they take just 2 more bites that they will get a prize. Meal time should be learned to be a daily activity and not something your child has to do to win a treat. If they learn that a treat comes after eating then that promotes the idea that meal time is a chore or an undesirable activity. In turn, children should not be punished for not eating a certain food or not finishing their plate. If they are punished, that will make them less likely to eat happily at the next meal and again, meal time is to be a learned daily activity and hopefully an enjoyable one not a chore.
- Children should be given 20 minutes to eat their meal. This is adequate time for the hungry child to eat an adequate amount of food to promote growth. Meal time should not be prolonged as this promotes lazy eating habits and often after 20 minutes, the remaining time is with a distracted child and a parent that is trying to convince their child to eat the last few bites of food.
- Children should eat all of their meals at the dinner table with the family. Meal time should be a social and enjoyable time. Children learn good eating habits through example and by making meal time social, this will promote healthy eating habits.
- Children should not be distracted by toys, iPads or television during meal time. If a child is distracted while being fed their food, they will not consciously understand that they are eating and will not follow their cues of hunger and fullness. This behaviour will promote unhealthy eating habits and often creates an even pickier eater.
- Do not make special meals for your child. They should eat what is made for the rest of the family. Be ok with your child not eating very much or anything at all at some meals. Remember, your child is in charge of the quantity of food they eat off of their plate. If at one meal, they are refusing to eat anything then allow them to sit for the allotted 20 minutes, do not punish them or offer rewards and once the 20 minutes is up, allow them to leave the table and go play. The child will come back asking for food in 1-2 hours as their hunger cues kick in and at that time, the same rules apply as listed above and a healthy food option should be provided again. A healthy child does not have the will power to starve themselves and so allowing them to feel hunger for a few hours before they finally eat the food provided will not harm their growth in any way.
The key to a healthy eater is to promote their ability to understand hunger and fullness while at the same time, sticking to basic rules of meal time behaviour and choosing quality food for your child. A picky eater does not have to be a picky eater for very long.