What do you do when you wish to instill healthy behaviors in your children, but there is resistance in terms of food? Teaching your children to eat nutrient-dense foods is a process, and when picky eating is thrown into the mix, it could get a little complicated. Although picky eating could be a frustrating experience for parents, there are things you can do to navigate it! Just know- this is totally normal, and we are here to help!
Picky Eating is Normal - You are not Alone!
Between the ages of 1 and 3, children start to express opinions about food and parents can guide them through their exploratory phase. During the exploratory phase children are gaining their independence by starting to make their own choices about what they want to eat. For parents who worry about their children getting the proper nutrition, this phase could be confusing and make parents feel like they are either doing too much or not enough. One thing that is important to remember: as a parent you can provide a balanced meal and set the meal times, but ultimately your child is the one deciding on whether they want to eat, what they want to eat, and how much of it. Pressuring your child to eat will backfire and actually cause a disconnect from his or her internal hunger, appetite, and satiety cues. In this picky-eating stage, all you can do is provide the structured eating environment while allowing your child to establish autonomy. A parent’s role in this part of their children’s development is simply to guide them and try to promote gravitation towards nutrient dense food and regular eating but not control nor force. The main intention is to create positive food experiences, thereby Eliminating any coercion, control of intake, or rewards/bribes allows for creating positive food experiences and to building a healthy long-term relationship with food.
3 Tips Encouraging a Positive Relationship with Food
1. GET THEM INVOLVED
Being involved in the preparation helps them feel like they are a part of the meal process and keeps them engaged and builds independence. This helps in trying new foods and learning about what is good for them
Build a positive relationship with food and cooking by letting the children explore different textures, colors, and allows for more questions about the different foods in a nonjudgmental, and even creative setting
Responsibility and choices help build autonomy
2. INTRODUCE VARIETY OF FOODS
Starting at the age of 1, you may start to see your child grabbing and scanning for food- but they want it to be on their own terms. Having bite sized pieces of food encourages their exploring.
The more foods they are introduced to, the more they can decide what they like
Provide meals with foods you know they do like while introducing new foods
3. MAKE IT FUN
Cut food into fun shapes or use colorful foods
Create a relaxed environment - no pressure or bribing
As a parent, what you can try to do is provide an environment for your children that is motivating and encouraging and conducive to exploration. While doing so, it is imperative to understand children are intuitive eaters and therefore by forcing them it will only create a negative relationship with food. Although it is easier said than done, it is important not to stress- if you try to incorporate the 3 tips above, you will slowly see your kids trying new foods. And remember- not every day is going to be a “perfect” day of eating- but we have to trust that their intuition and gentle introductions to new foods will have them eating well enough over a short course of time. Happy exploring!
By: Taly Kazimirsky, Loyola Dietetic Intern