Tips and tricks for dealing with picky eaters
In your group, are there children who frequently push foods to one side of their plate? Is there a child who, after taking two bites, declares that the food “isn’t good” or that he “isn’t hungry”? Despite your countless attempts and best recipes, do you know children who just don’t seem to eat more than a few mouthfuls? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, this article is for you.
Picky eaters can represent quite the challenge for parents and early childhood educators. We are constantly endeavoring to offer children a variety of foods and provide all the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy and grow. Picky eaters can challenge even the best of our intentions. Writing this article reawakens the anxiety I experienced when my son, who is now eleven years old, was younger. Every meal was a true battle. The truth is, there are no magic recipes. Trust me, I tried them all.
I remember having long talks with the nutritionist I worked with. I wanted to pinpoint what it was that I was doing wrong, but most of all, I sought reassurance that my son would be okay. I wondered if he was normal, if he would get sick because he was eating too little. I worried I was a bad mother for serving macaroni for the third time in the same week, just to get him to ingest something. All these questions (and many more) led to long discussions that really forced me to look at my values and my way of doing things. Changing our methods or habits can be quite difficult. Slowly, I was forced to put certain aspects into perspective. Read on to discover what I learned from this process.
Understanding that certain children may need to be exposed to a new food 10 to 20 times before they accept to even taste it is important. Beyond that, they may have to taste it as many times before they even begin to like it. Patience is key…to say the very least.
Always offer a single challenge per plate. A picky eater’s plate should always be filled with a combination of foods he is familiar with and a single new food or one food he doesn’t like. This will ensure that even if a new food or a food the child hasn’t yet accepted is on his plate, he will find foods he likes and foods he will eat.
Intentionally ignoring the child is THE best intervention technique. Set his plate on the table and let go. When the nutritionist I worked with suggested this years ago, I must say it troubled me. How could I ignore the fact that my child wasn’t eating? However, this method works. Insisting is pointless and what’s more, it can greatly affect family relations or group dynamics as well as the atmosphere that is present in your home or daycare.
Dessert mustn’t be used to reward or punish picky eaters (or any child for that matter). This aspect can be difficult to manage. Even if a child pushes his plate away or eats very little, offer him dessert, making sure the portion is reasonable. Keep in mind that dessert doesn’t necessarily have to be a cookie or cake. It can be fruit, yogurt, applesauce, or a healthy muffin. All the children in your group must be given the same dessert, regardless of the quantity of food they ate for the main course. That way, everyone reaps the benefits of a positive atmosphere!
Maude Dubé, Specialized educator