Kids are complex. So are the reasons that they might not eat enough quantity or variety to grow and develop as they should. Picky eating is really complex, and never a result of naughty behaviour. The key ways to help are to:
• reduce anxiety around food and mealtimes, and
• support their appetite with routines and pleasant meals.
Progress can be slow, but pressure, bribes, rewards, threats and even praise can actually slow your progress down.
Here are some things to try:
• Always remember that the parent provides, the child decides!
• Rotate a variety of foods at meals and snacks, including foods the family enjoys.
• Offer foods many ways, many times. Consider blueberries: rotate frozen, fresh, in smoothies, in pancakes, muffins, jam, freeze-dried… Think of textures and flavors your child likes now and bridge to new opportunities.
• Include protein, fat, and carbs at meals and snacks, with one to two choices the child usually eats.
• Offer sit-down meals and snacks roughly every 2-3 hours for younger children and every 3-4 hours for older. Limit eating on-the-go. Most of the time, don’t allow food or drink between meals and snacks, other than water.
• Eat together as much as possible.
• Keep a paper napkin at everyone’s place setting. A child is more likely to try a food if she knows she can spit it out.
• Sauces, dips, and condiments are your friend. Children often enjoy dipping or sprinkling. Think of them as training wheels and offer at every meal and snack.
• Allow the child to serve himself as he is able. Serve “family” or “buffet” style.
• Don’t ask or insist she try a bite, lick or touch a food. Try not to praise if she does, or comment on what or how much she is (or isn’t) eating.
• Offer familiar foods with new foods, e.g. serve favourite fruit with yoghurt for dipping
• Prioritise. If growth is a serious concern, allow children to fill up on familiar foods, even if it’s just bread or sweeter items for now. If anxiety is the main issue, focus on pleasant mealtimes.
• Minimise distractions while eating: turn off screens and phones and put pets in another room.
• Avoid power struggle and conflict around food. Research shows that kids pressured to eat more tend to eat less, and kids pushed to eat fruits and veggies tend to eat less of those (but do keep offering them!).
• Don’t make her eat certain amounts of certain foods or eat foods in any particular order.
• Model enjoying a variety of foods, good manners, feeling good about yourself, and having fun being active.
• Make mealtime pleasant, and include the child in conversation. Limit mealtimes to about 30-40 minutes.
• When kids say, “Yuck!” try, “You don’t have to eat it; please just say ‘no thank you.’”
• Let children help with gardening, cooking, and baking. It’s great exposure and they might just try a new food.
• If you are still struggling, find the right help for your family. Our Mealtime Therapy Team can work with you and your Doctor to tailor a programme to your needs.