Every child goes through a picky eating phase – punctuated by loud tantrums, piled up food, and a lot of heartburn for the parents! As a parent, you’re always concerned about feeding your child and giving him/her the right nutrition. Parents often visit paediatricians to find answers and to figure out how to get the picky eaters to eat.
Assess the situation
The first thing that you should start doing is maintaining a food diary of everything your child eats over the course of a week. It might be possible that your child kicks up a fuss only at certain meal times, like dinner or breakfast, or only with certain foods. Once you carry out this exercise, you will understand the relationship your child has with food. These are some of the questions you will find the answers to-
- How often does your child eat?
- What are the kind of foods he/she enjoys eating? (Make notes about your child’s mood or energy level at the time).
- How does your child react to hunger? (Do he/she feel irritated and cranky, or sleepy?)
Visit the paediatrician
Share the food diary with your paediatrician and learn the normal growth development for your child. Kids who are picky eaters are not necessarily unhealthy or suffering from developmental issues; they might be getting enough nutrition through their current diet as well.
Some kids who are picky eaters also have health issues, like food allergies or digestive problems, that make them fussy about food. Ensure that you have ruled out these issues with the help of your doctor so that you can proceed to make a plan to get your kids to eat healthily.
Start in the kitchen
Introducing new and healthy foods like vegetables is a big task for parents. Sometimes picky eaters refuse even to eat food they previously liked, leaving you perplexed about their likes or dislikes. It also happens that kids are conditioned to believe that certain foods are not tasty, like broccoli or greens. You can avoid this by making small changes in the kitchen.
- Use fresh and healthy ingredients like vegetables in foods that your kid enjoys. Cut up broccoli or salad vegetables into tiny pieces and add in dips or sauces to mask the taste. While the long-term plan is to make the kids enjoy their food, in the short term you need to focus on giving them the right nutrients.
- Make the food look attractive by using moulds or decorating the food. Colorful food always gets the attention of kids and it is one of the best ways of getting picky eaters to eat. It might take a little longer, but it will be worth it.
- Use spices and ingredients that enhance the taste of foods. Most kids like a sweet taste compared to bland or bitter tastes. You can use honey, peanut butter and yogurt with foods like carrots to make them palatable to your kids. If your children love a spicy flavor, then add fresh herbs like oregano and rosemary to help foods like broccoli taste better.
- Mix up the textures of the food. Some kids love their peas soft boiled, but others are happy to eat crunchy fresh peas. The sensory receptors of kids are always evolving and you should find out the textures and smells that they like.
Make changes at the dining table
You need to start regulating the mealtimes of your kids and ensure that their snacking is controlled. You cannot simply expect them to eat a hearty meal when they have spoilt their appetite with a sugary snack an hour before mealtime. Try to have the same meal times every day, so that they get used to the idea.
Ensure that the entire family sits down for the meal. You can be a good role model for your kid by eating all kinds of foods. Unless the child is too young to eat the same food, make sure you prepare the same meal for the family. If your child throws a tantrum about a particular food, do not scamper to make something else immediately. This signals to them that you are ready to cook to their fancy all the time! Do not offer desserts as a reward for finishing their food; you do not want to convey that dessert is better than the food that you are serving for dinner.
Start having conversations at the table about how their day went, share stories of your day. This will build a strong connection among you all as a family. Avoid TV dinners or other distractions like using your mobile at the table. Many kids throw a fuss just to get attention from their parents.
Above all, do not panic! What to do with picky eaters is an eternal question that plagues every generation of parents. The best that you can do is to cope with it, and ensure that you have a healthy and growing child.