LISTEN ABOVE OR READ BELOW
It’s a new month and that means a new monthly topic. This monthly we are going to talk about Tough Times of the Day and solutions to better handle those. We start the discussion with mealtime. I think that EVERY parent out there has a picky eater in their house, a child that exclusively wants pizza or mac-n-cheese. If you are one of those parents, you are in for a treat (pun intended) CMHC Mike Fitch teaches us his do’s and don’ts with picky eaters. Here’s the thing, Mike has a child with cerebral palsy, which makes eating very difficult. He has had to receive extensive training on the do’s and don’ts for picky eaters and is truly an expert on this topic.
I really appreciate Mike taking the time to teach us the do’s and don’ts of picky eating. Here’s what he has to share:
DO be aware that there are two categories of picky eaters:
- A child that has an underlying medical issue that genuinely affects their feelings towards foods. Some examples are:
- A child with OCD
- A child with sensory processing disorder
- A child with a physical issue such as cerebral palsy
- A child with food anxieities
- A “typical” child that just doesn’t want to try new foods
They next do’s and don’ts are for the typical child that doesn’t want to try new foods. To learn more about the child that might have a medical disorder, scroll to the end of the article.
DO cook only one meal:
It can be tempting to cook several meals, one for each of your children and then one for the adults. That is unnecessary work and will reinforce the picky eater. They will learn that if they cry enough, whine enough, or act hungry enough, you will continue to feed them their favorite foods for every meal.
Instead, establish a FIRM rule that you will only make one meal. They can choose to eat it or not.
DO let them experience the natural consequences of not eating that one meal:
Once you’ve cooked that one meal, that’s what’s for dinner. They can choose to eat or go without. This is where is gets tough. Let’s say they choose to go without then are hungry later. That tugs on our heart strings and makes us want to swoop in and make something for them to eat. However, that once again reinforces picky eating. Instead, you get to say something like “Bummer, you’re hungry. Meal time is over, you can try again at the next meal.” Then walk away. They will quickly learn that if they don’t want to be hungry, they need to make what mama cooks.
DO have a FIRM expectation that they TRY foods:
We use the word FIRM a lot at Parent with a Pro. Firm is the opposite of flexible. Research shows that being a firm parent is healthy for your kids (if you balance that firmness out with lots of love, connection, and fun). So what will the firm expectation be in your home? That they try the ONE meal that you cook? That they take one bite for each year of age they are? i.e. an eight year old takes eight bites. That they eat one veggie and one protein? You decide, then you stick to it.
DO occasionally let them miss out on dessert if they choose not to eat dinner:
If you’re at a meal where there is a dessert after, it is OK to say “Dessert is for kids who eat a little protein and one vegetable.” It’s OK to have that rule and it’s OK to let your child miss out if they choose not to eat a little protein and a vegetable (or whatever expectation you set). The child may be OK with this when they are refusing to eat, but it most likely won’t be pretty when dessert comes out and they don’t get it. Which leads to…
DON’T give in to tantrums, fits, crying, whining, etc. about food:
Not giving into negative behavior is one parenting rule we CANNOT emphasize enough! Giving in and giving a child the dessert THEY CHOOSE to miss out on will teach the child that they don’t have to listen to you next time. AND that if they don’t like what you said, all they have to do is escalate their negative behavior to get what they want. If you set an expectation, you stick to it. If you need moral support doing that, join our Facebook group. We’ll keep you strong.
DON’T make them finish their plates:
Food is a little tricky and there is some grey area. We are going to teach you to err on the side of caution with this topic. Some eating disorders have been linked to being forced to FINISH ALL the food on the plate. Not trying the foods, but finishing everything on the plate.
DON’T use shaming:
Another thing you want to avoid is using shaming techniques to get your child to eat. Many individuals with eating disorders have struggles with the shame that is attached to eating.
LET’S TALK BENEFITS
How can helping your children try new foods help them in the long run?
- The more variety of foods they eat, the more nutrients they are introduced to
- It can help them develop a love for a wider variety of foods
- It can help them in social situations where refusing to try foods may be offensive
- You may enjoy having kids that eat the same foods you do
Children with Medical Issues:
We need to handle picky eaters with medical issues in a different way.
*We recommend working with a competent medical professional if you have a child with medical issues affecting their ability to eat and/or try different foods.
One trick that Mike Fitch, CMHC learned to use with his daughter with cerebral palsy, was to introduce new foods VERY gradually. He doesn’t recommend using this with children without medical issues, but for those of you who have children with food anxiety, sensory processing disorder, etc. you might want to try out the following steps:
HOW TO INTRODUCE YOUR CHILD TO NEW FOODS
- Select which new food you’d like them to start trying
- For a couple of weeks, have that food available at every breakfast, lunch or dinner (whichever suits it best)
- For those first little while have the child just put a little bit of the food on their plate. They don’t have to eat it.
- After the child has gotten used to that, for the next little while have the child put the food on their plate and touch it with their finger. Once again, they don’t have to eat it.
- After the child has gotten used to that, for the next little while, have they child put one bit in their mouth. Once again, they don’t have to eat it.
- After the child has gotten used to that, it’s time for them to swallow one bite for the next little while.
Mike says that this process is time-consuming and challenging, but that it helps the child gradually get used to the food. He’s been doing this for years with his daughter and she now eats a decent variety of foods. They still have a lot of work left to do but they’ve made a lot of progress.
I personally find it frustrating to prepare a meal just to have my kids say “That’s gross! I don’t like it!” before they’ve even tried it. I’m excited to try these tips but I imagine that there will be many more nights where I feel like this:
What works for you? How do you get your kids to eat? Share in the comments below.