Help Your Child Build A Healthy Appreciation and Relationship With Food
You listen as the doctor rattles off the list of things your child needs to incorporate into their diet. It’s all falling on deaf ears because you’re wondering how to get your picky eater to eat anything outside of their three or four foods of choice.
As a mom of two, I listened to the crazy things other moms did to entice their children to eat – cutting every new food into dinosaur shapes, driving across town to buy a specific brand, dyeing foods different colors, or giving up and making three or more different meals for every meal. I could not believe what I was hearing. I used to laugh and think “I am not a slave to these children, they will eat what I put in front of them, or starve.”
Then, God gave me my third child.
My first child ate everything in sight. My second child was a challenge because she was allergic to everything, but I had four designated foods to get creative with. My third child was a wishy-washy eater. He had a few staples he was against, and the rest of his preferences changed with the weather. One day he would tolerate onions, the next day he would assure me he had always hated onions. Excuse you?! I could not understand it. At first, I stuck to my guns. I cooked the same meal for everyone and essentially said “eat or starve” with a more loving, maternal approach…until he really had the nerve to choose to starve!
I didn’t want to destroy his relationship with food, but he was dropping weight he could not afford to lose. I had to get creative. Again.
While my mini-me is mild-mannered, respectful, and totally lovable, he is also as stubborn as me. He helped foster my compassion toward parents accommodating picky eaters. I see you. I see your sacrifice, your frustrations, and your desperation to instill healthy habits in your child to give them the best future possible.
1. Begin With A Positive Mindset
Your words become your child’s thoughts. Speak positively to your child, and remember setting a healthy relationship with food is the most important thing. Forcing them into new habits with threats or negative reactions will damage their decision-making process in more areas than one, tipping the first domino in a trail of toxic thoughts, habits, and associations.
Moreover, when introducing new foods – even to yourself – start out with an open mind. When your first thought is “I am not eating that,” just by looking at it, you cannot blame your child for doing the same thing. They become what they see more than what they are told. Be optimistic and adventurous. However, animal genitals are an easy pass. I assure you I am not eating that.
2. Talk About Food
Picky eating is attributed to plenty of things to include habits, mindset, and traumatic experiences. For example, my second child who ate everything in sight – before acquiring allergies to all of God’s creation – hated peanut butter. I could never understand why this child who ate pb&j every day of her toddlerhood suddenly hated peanut butter. Several years later, I found out she began avoiding it because she threw up a pb&j sandwich.
While I didn’t know it back then, she had autoimmune problems, so she threw things up all the time. I don’t know what set this experience apart, but it was traumatic enough for her to stay away from peanut butter forever. Nearly 20 years later, she still won’t touch it, and that is fine by me.
Understanding the underlying issues to your child’s food choices increases your chances of success at boosting variety in their eating habits without worsening emotional issues they may attach to food.
Just the same, ask your child what they like about their favorite foods. Is it the taste, the texture, the packaging? Learning what they’re drawn to can help you select alternate options they are more inclined to learn to enjoy.
3. Go Shopping Together
This can sound daring and expensive. You can do this. You need to lay the foundation before entering the store, and exercise self-control. Explain to your children you are walking into the store with a grocery list. Nothing goes into the cart unless it is on the list.
There is one exception.
Each of them gets to pick one item. The catch? It can’t be something they always eat. Healthy is not the priority here. It simply has to be something different from their routine snacks and meals.
This will help include them in decisions, nudge them toward becoming more adventurous with food and quench a possible thirst for control over what they consume.
4. Start A Garden
As a veteran black thumb, I am not asking you to turn your backyard into Martha Stewart’s Garden. Getting my son excited about growing one or two veggies, spices, or herbs did eventually turn into a full-blown garden, but my son was proud of his tomatoes and peppers and couldn’t wait to eat the things we grew together. He still won’t eat peppers he didn’t grow or potatoes unless they come in the fry version from Chick fil A, but I can live with that.
If the outdoors are not your thing, indoor plants are perfectly fine.
You can try your hand at:
Most Basic Leafy Greens
Gardening is pretty addictive. Once you get one to grow, you will want more!
Make sure your kids are actively involved in your food’s growth. Ask them where they think is sunny enough. Have them google how much water it needs and when. Remind them to keep an eye on the soil to see when it needs watering. As the food grows, they will feel a healthy emotional attachment to it and will be more inclined to test out a new recipe just to taste the fruit of their labors.
By the end of this, they’ll be more curious about new foods, they’ll be knowledgeable about the ones they’ve grown, AND they’ll have a new skillset. Pat yourself on the back and get some SUPERMOM business cards, because all the other moms will be dying to know how you did it!
5. Cook Together
The kitchen truly is the heart of the home. Have your kids cook with you, even if it is only one at a time. Just like the garden and the grocery store, this gives your children more of an appreciation for the food you prepare on a daily basis and piques their curiosity for food. Getting their hands on each ingredient and putting it all together changes their perspective. They get to see “ingredients” becoming a magically beautiful – or wonky – delicious dish! They become more connected and mindful.
If your child is artistic, paint cooking as artistic. Let them shine with their culinary art. If your child is more technical, introduce cooking as the fun science that it is! Let them combine, design, and explore! It is progress, not perfection.
6. Eat Together
With busy schedules, it is easy to graze all day, eating when you find the time. Your fussy eater probably enjoys snacking when it’s most convenient and rarely sits through a whole meal. Establishing at least one meal time where you all sit together as a family and have fun conversations – where everyone gets to contribute to the conversation and enjoy the meal – or play a game will increase healthy communication and eating habits.
My family and I play games during nearly every dinner. That was the initial draw to get my kids to sit at the table for the whole meal whether they planned on eating or not. Sitting through at least one round of a card game was not optional. My kids have heard “You’re not allowed to go to your room until this round is over because we love and miss you!” about a million times. By the end of most nights, they were grateful and often wound up contributing more to the conversation than any of us planned. Some nights we just sit and talk.
My best memories and conversations with my kids have not been during fancy vacations or expensive outings. They were at the dinner table.
They began coming to the table with a prepared outline of their day or whatever they wanted to talk about because they knew that was where they would be listened to, free of outside distractions like work or tv. The dinner table became a safe space for fun and openness. Some nights they’d be so wrapped up in the game or conversation that they wouldn’t realize I snuck in the peppers or celery they didn’t like until the meal was almost gone. “Gotcha again!!!”
How have you managed the picky eaters in your household?
Bringing the family back to the table,
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