Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Picky Eaters

Today I attended a picky eater seminar at the YMCA and learned lots of new things. Let me share. First of all, mealtimes are for eating around the dinner table so children shouldn't be playing with toys or books at the table and NO EATING IN FRONT OF THE TV. Turn the tube off during lunch/dinner to encourage table talk. Children should also stay in their seats until everyone has eaten so no running around with the food, drinks, forks etc. (Ok, I have to point out that I don't require them to stay in their seats until everyone has eaten. Each child can get off the table after eating but if they don't eat, then they sit until everyone is done.)

Lunch and dinner should consist of protein, grain and vegetable; it's up to you what they are but remember to respect strong dislikes in your family. If you are introducing a new dish, ask your child to try it. You may have to introduce a new food 10-20 times or more before a picky eater will taste it. Never force your child to eat, you are not the food police! It may help if everyone in your family takes a turn to pick a food for one evening. Then the child who picked the food for that day should help prepare it. My 5 year old is very excited to help but my 3 year old is not so make the helping age appropriate.

All meals and most snacks should be eaten around the kitchen table. Children need a regular schedule when it comes to meals but don't give them whatever they ask for. Try to make meals wholesome staying away from the processed foods and leaning more towards whole foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains etc)

It is up to the parents to make mealtimes friendly. Don't nag about not eating. You have provided dinner, now it's up to your child to eat it. If (s)he doesn't, offer water for the rest of the night. It may be hard for a mom or dad to do but this will teach the child to A) eat at mealtimes and B) eat what has been prepared so the parents don't have to prepare several different meals for the family. Everyone should eat the same thing unless there is an allergy or strong food dislike. Occasionally substitutions are allowed but just remember, if you do it too often the kids will start to expect it and will never eat the main meal.

Some other quick points were
* No bribing with dessert (oops, been there done that!)
* Praise big moments like when a picky eater tries something new but know when to stop
* Don't allow complaining about food at mealtimes. It is ok to decline it but so not ok to complain about it.

One final point is that as wonderful as the Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious types of cook books are, don't feel like you have to constantly hide the vegetables. Your picky eater may not eat them now but if (s)he sees you eat them and they are offered to him/her consistently, eventually they will try them. You have to set a good example to your children about eating and you need to eat with them at the same time. Eat slowly, meal times should last about 20-30 min or more than an hour if you are Italian ;o)

Don't reward with food, offer vegetables even if they are turned down and don't be the food police! Keep dinners pleasant and your picky eater will pull out of it.

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