Meal-time looks more like a battleground. It is often accompanied by wailing on both sides. On occasions, food ends up on the floor, on the walls, and even in the hair of everyone present. Words like “No,” “I don’t wanna” or “Bleah” are the norm. It’s clear! You have a picky eater on your hands.
It seems like your child is living on air and water. To your despair, the little dictator won’t touch any of the scrumptious meals that you’ve so carefully prepared for him. What to do? In your eyes, he’s getting thinner with every passing minute!
The first thing you need to do is calm down a little and relax. Your baby angel will not starve. That’s a guarantee. There are a few tips to help a fussy eater befriend food. And this is precisely what we are going to discuss in this post. So, without further ado, here are some helpful tips for a picky eater.
When pleading and threatening fail, what can you do? If a child doesn’t want to open his mouth, then all the armies of the world won’t make him do it. Well, how about you make the food so appealing and so fun that he will not be able to resist and devour everything you put in front of him.
Get creative with the arrangement of the food on the plate. Food can look ‘meh’ for a child who craves excitement and fun. So, give him just that. There are literally endless combinations that you can make. Your imagination is the limit. You can make dinosaurs, different funny animals, flowers, arrange fruit and vegetables so that they look like something else. Something exciting and thrilling. Chances are your little one will accept what’s in front of him since, all of a sudden, the boring fruit and vegetables have transformed into yummy characters.
If you are like me, completely lacking talent and imagination when it comes to art, then we are lucky that we live in the era of the internet. There are hundreds of ideas out there on how to do simple food art for children. Onelittleproject is one of the sites I use when I want to get creative with my little boy’s food. Check it out. It has many cute and fun ideas on how to arrange the food on your kid’s plate, plus AMAZING tips on house decor and organization, delicious recipes, DIYs and a ton of original activities for kids. I’m honestly hooked!
The main idea is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Even if your dinosaur looks more like a wet dog, that’s not the point. Your picky eater will still love the little characters made out of fruit or veggies.
2. Create stories
“Every child is born with a vivid imagination,” said Walt Disney. So why not use that at mealtimes as well?
Invent stories in which Mr. Picky Eater takes an active role. For example, the spinach on his plate is the dangerous swamp that the brave knight has to cross to get to the fabulous treasure. But, oh, dear, the poor knight is stuck! He needs help from a fearless explorer. Thus every spoon full of food can be another step that the knight takes. Will the knight manage to get across the swap and find the treasure? It all depends on your little explorer.
The child’s stomach can become a character who demands food; otherwise, he will start complaining to all the other organs. There are so many different stories that you can make up. Your child can also help you come up with stories. It’s all the more fun.
If you decide to give the food art a try, you can easily make up stories surrounding the figurines on the plate.
3. Involve your child in the shopping
Another tip for a picky eater would be to get him involved in the shopping. You can let him know that today you are going to cook this particular dish, and it would be extremely helpful if he could lend you a hand in finding the ingredients. It could be like a treasure hunt.
Allow him to find all the ingredients and put them in the shopping basket. You could even tell His Royal Fussiness what you are going to do with each ingredient and how you are going to cook it.
At mealtime, you can ask the child: Do you remember when we bought the tomato? Can you see it on your plate now? Do you remember how I told you I would cook it? By involving the child in the shopping process, it might make him more inclined to eat what’s in front of him.
4. Involve the child in the cooking process
Similar to involving your picky eater when doing the shopping, you can include the child in the cooking process. Kids love to be in the middle of the action, and they also want to know how things are done. They are curious creatures by nature. So take advantage of that.
Where it is possible and not endangering the child in any way, like working with hot oil, allow him to help with the cooking. Easy and safe tasks can be breaking the eggs, pouring the milk, adding salt or flour, mixing the ingredients, and so on. Of course, everything under your supervision.
Seeing the result will give the child a sense of achievement and pride, so he might not refuse to eat something that he, himself, has helped cook.
5. Eat together
The little munchkins love to imitate everything that adults do. They are so cute when they try to do grown-up activities. Copying the adults will make them feel important and grown-up themselves. Thus, a good tip for a picky eater would be to eat together. If your child copies everything you do, he might copy eating, too.
Sitting together and having a family meal has many benefits, including helping a fussy eater get some food in his tummy. Just sit around the table, act normally, eat, and interact with each other. Don’t pay attention to the little Fuss Head. Refusal to eat is a way of getting attention for some children.
Once the child sees that everybody is eating, enjoying the family meal, and not making a lot of fuss about him not eating, he might want to gobble up what’s in front of him.
6. Adjust your expectations
When we were children, we were expected to clean our plates. Some of us have the same expectations from our children today. This can lead to mommy never being happy with the amount that the child has eaten. What have you eaten? Two spoonfuls? That’s not enough. You need to eat more.
But we forget that sometimes two spoonfuls is all it takes for the little human to be full. So we push and insist on ‘one more spoonful’ when the child has clearly had enough.
We need to adjust our expectations and understand that our kids won’t clean their plates every time, that once in a while, two spoonfuls are all their little stomachs need.
7. Routine is important
As parents, we know how important routine is in our children’s lives. Routine creates a state of calm, reassurance, and familiarity for the child. That’s why it is essential to have strict times when they eat. Involuntarily, their bodies will know that it’s time to eat and send ‘hungry’ signals to their brain.
Any break in the routine and the little one will become agitated and confused. And from this point on, the fussiness begins and battlefield called Meal Time.
So, sticking to a routine might help the child become a better eater.
Things to avoid when dealing with a picky eater
1. Don’t force food in
I know how tempting it is to lure your little one into getting one more bite. But when the child says that he’s done and refuses the extra bite offered, let him be. Trying to force more in will only lead to tears and rebellion. Don’t worry, those few bites that are in his stomach are enough. He will not starve.
2. Bribery and emotional blackmail has to stop
Go on, one more spoonful for mommy. If you love mommy, you’ll have one more bite. If you clean your plate, I’ll buy you a toy. One for mommy, one for daddy, one for granny, one for grandad, and one for the dog.
Out of desperation, because the little human refuses to eat, most of us have tried bribery and emotional blackmail. And it has to stop. I know that it may seem like a victory that the child took another bite or ate everything on his plate. But the kid only did it because he loves mommy or he wants that toy not because he was hungry and he wanted to. In the long run, this kind of technique may not build a healthy relationship between the child and food.
3. Enhancing food with sweeteners
This is more of a personal story, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. When I was young, apparently, I was a bit of a fussy eater. So my grandma used to sprinkle sugar on everything. Pasta, soups, stuffed tomatoes, cheese, everything had sugar on top. That was the only method she found that would make me eat.
Children have a natural tendency to eating sweet food. But that doesn’t mean that we, as parents, must overindulge that tendency. Science has shown us how damaging sugar can be, so it is our job to control their sugar intake.
Thinking back, I am lucky that, so far, at least, I don’t have any sugar-related illnesses. But I do have a strong preference for everything sweet.
So avoid enhancing your kid’s food with sweeteners hoping that he will eat. Yes, he might clean his plate, but the effect it will have on his health, later on, might not be so good.
4. Distractions like the TV or the tablet
Another way in which we make our fussy eaters eat more is by distracting them with technology. They are so absorbed by what they are watching that they will mechanically open their mouths. But by being so captivated with something other than their food, it’s so easy for them to over-eat. They will not “hear” their bodies telling them that they are full because their minds are somewhere else.
This is a clear path to obesity, stomach problems, and other not-so-good things. Not to mention that for younger children, them not paying attention to what they are doing, predisposes them to chocking.
So, if your otherwise sweet child turns into a little rebel with a zip on his mouth at mealtimes, then try these tips for picky eaters. Who knows, one might work for you and end the feeding war.
**Just starting weaning now with your baby? Check out this Beginner’s Guide to Baby-Led Weaning.**
If you have or know a fussy eater, be sure to share this post with them. Spread the love.