Who pushes a parent’s buttons at mealtime more than anyone else? A picky eater. Whether parents cook or stop after work to buy carry out food, they have invested valuable time in getting a meal on the table. When children don’t eat, turn up their noses, and make unkind comments about the meal, parents have a difficult time remaining calm and civil.
A major concern parents have about their finicky eater is whether the child is getting all the nutrients needed for optimal health. Most of us know about the food pyramid and minimal daily food requirements. Most of us also have the mistaken belief that these needs must be met each and every day.
To ease your concerns and create a mealtime environment conducive to harmony in the home, a few mealtime tips can be useful.
Instead of setting up a power struggle over eating, at each meal provide at least one food your child enjoys. Offer a small-to-moderate portion of that food and, in a sincere and kind way, indicate that there will be no second helpings.
In addition, serve a very small portion, perhaps one teaspoon full, of other foods the family is eating. Ask the child to take a tiny taste of these foods. This means just that. A taste. If the entire teaspoon full is not eaten, don’t make an issue of it. It’s okay if the child just puts her tongue on it. The purpose is to work toward expanding flavors and textures that the child will willingly eat.
You can best assist your finicky eater by offering a meal only once. If the child chooses not to eat, say with sadness, "I’m sorry that you are choosing not to eat with us. Our next meal will be breakfast (or whatever the next meal is)." Then stick to it. If the child whines or cries about being hungry, say, "We will be eating breakfast at 7:00. We’ll be glad to have you join us." If your child eats breakfast at school, indicate what time breakfast is served.
When you give your message straightforwardly and sincerely, the whining will escalate. The child is testing you. Be calm and know that you are parenting the situation effectively. When you hold firm, the whining will stop. It will continue, however, if your words or body language indicate that you feel guilty about not providing food.
If a meal is going to be late, let the family know. Offer a light snack earlier enough that it doesn’t interfere with mealtime hunger.
In some families where members are home at different times, the standard becomes that whoever is home at mealtime eats together. This may not be an ideal solution, but it does lend to mealtime consistency.
While children usually respond well to positive mealtime changes, sometimes they purposefully act out just to see what will happen. Stay calm and offer them the choice of participating appropriately or leaving the table. This is not punishment. It is being clear that mealtime in your family is a pleasant time.
Picky eaters cause parents concern. Too often their behavior results in power struggles over food. Too much emphasis on food during early childhood can result in eating disorders during adolescence and early adulthood. Taking a straightforward, low-key, and consistent approach to the problem generally brings positive results
Using the offered suggestions won’t make a finicky eater a gourmet. They will give you confidence in your ability to handle the situation, and sometimes this alone begins to break the picky eating cycle.