Dealing with a picky eater is like a right of passage for parenthood. One of our primary jobs as a parent is to provide proper nourishment to our kids. That’s what makes mealtime so stressful. We want them to eat healthy food, but if they refuse we at least want them to eat SOMETHING. Unfortunately, our desperation makes us vulnerable and we often end up feeling completely at the mercy of that little dictator in the highchair. A dictator in a five-point harness: ironic. Here are some tips to help take back control of your dining room table.
Let them go to bed hungry. I think it’s important to point out that you are not MAKING them go to bed hungry. Did you offer them food? Yes, yes you did. They are CHOOSING to go to bed hungry. Never lose sight of this. Would a starving child have eaten the dinner you made? Yes, yes they would have. Once we change our mindset on this, it’s a whole lot easier to put our foot down and let go of all that self-imposed guilt.
Stop begging them to eat. Actions speak WAY louder then words when it comes to motivating your kids to eat. So just decide what the consequence will be for not eating and stick to that plan (e.g., go to bed hungry, stay at table, no dessert, no computer time, early bedtime, etc). Occasional reminders are ok (especially if it’s a new rule), but conversation at the table should be about something other than food.
Avoid the “one more bite” trap. Keep arguments, discussions and negotiations to a minimum by giving them exactly what you expect them to eat (no more, no less). Most of us have seen the popular rabbit-nibble sized bite that occurs when ask for just “one more bite”. If there is a loophole or alternate interpretation- kids will find it.
Consider baby steps. When you are introducing a new food or something your child claims to hate, consider starting small. If the rule is that you have to eat all your “veggies” to get dessert, they are likely to have a meltdown at the sight of something new or intimidating. Help ease the tension by starting with a very small amount (maybe borderline ridiculously small), then build up to larger amounts over several days. And don’t forget mom-NO backtracking, NO “eat half of it”, NO “one more bite!” If your child refuses, consider that attempt a fail and try again the next meal. If you get several failed attempts across many days, consider presenting a even smaller amount of the item or rethink the consequences for refusing (maybe dessert isn’t a motivator but something else is).