We’ve covered our bases by:
- involving the kids in the process of cooking
- rethinking expectations at the table
- considering how the feeding beliefs we have interfere or contribute to the mealtime environment
- thought about the daytime eating schedule and taken control of when food is offered
We want to work on expanding your picky eater’s repertoire of accepted foods. Dinner time is the most chaotic time of the day in a household with young children. NOT THE EASIEST TIME TO WORK ON SOMETHING NEW. Kids are at their whiniest and I’m typically tapped out of patience by this point in the day.
Start with a snack time. Introduce a new food alongside a preferred food. It’s less stressful for you if your child ends up touching a food, but not eating it. It’s easier to count the snack as a success if he stayed at the table and interacted with the new food in some way. Even if that interaction was building a tower with the Babybels. Allow creative, fun ways to interact with food. Think of it as “building feeding skills” rather than simply playing with food. Remember to model an interaction with the new food rather than stating “try it” to you child.
You can also consider making a small change to an accepted food at a snack time. If your child likes slices of ham, cut one into a circle and one into a square. Offer a slice of black forest next to honey ham. Offer a slice of turkey next to the honey ham. Some kids feel more comfortable if you still have the preferred food present alongside the small change. They are reassured that you haven’t taken away or changed that favourite food forever.
In an ideal world, mealtime is about re-connection with loved ones and creating memories. Mealtime with little kids is ANYTHING BUT. First you have to herd them to the table, then get them to stay there and actually eat something. I often hear myself saying “focus on eating”, “how is your corn?” or “how does the salmon sound in your mouth?”. Think about the language you are using at the table.
Some version of “eat it” is likely the most common thing parents say to little kids, IF they can get them to the table. At this stage of development, our little humans have an intense desire for independence and some semblance of control. Saying “take a bite” is a poor way to encourage eating and it certainly won’t help develop a positive feeding relationship between the two of you. Toddlers and preschoolers are all about power. Taking a bite is likely the last thing they will do when you tell them to. Especially if there is some anxiety or hesitation around trying something new. Take the focus off the BITE of food and move it to teaching about the food.
- food characteristics: Is the food hard or soft? Warm or cold? Crunchy or quiet? Big taste or little taste?
- the health benefits of the food
- how the food is grown
Talk about how you are eating!
- I’m going to try to chew my food with my front teeth. Watch.
- I wonder what it feels like to chew with my side teeth.
- I like how these beans feel in my mouth.
- I wonder if I can bite this chickpea in two pieces.
Use empowering statements:
- You can poke your yam fries with your finger but you don’t have to eat it.
- You can touch your pea to your lips (but you don’t have to eat it).
It’s always an uphill battle to keep your language in check when you know the calories are necessary so your child is full the entire night! I hear the words ” are you sure you are full?” and “have another bite” come out of my mouth too. I’m always working on it.
Leung A, Marchand V, Sauve R, Canadian Pediatric Society. The ‘picky eater’: The toddler or preschooler who does not eat. Pediatr Child Health [internet]. 2012 Oct [cited 2014 June]; 17(8): 455-57. Available from: http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/toddler-preschooler-who-does-not-eat
Birch LL. Development of food acceptance patterns in the first years of life. Proc Nutr Soc. 1998 Nov;57(4);617-24.
Toomey K, Ross E. Picky Eaters vs. Problem Feeders: The SOS Approach to Feeding [unpublished lecture notes]. Renfrew Educational Services; notes provided at lecture 2011 February.
Dunn Klein, M. The Get Permission Approach to Sensory Mealtime Challenges [unpublished lecture notes]. Alberta Childrens Hospital; notes provided at lecture May 2, 2103.