Some finicky behaviors are a normal part of development–but could you be making your kid’s picky eating worse? Here are 5 things to avoid!
Picky eating can take even the most unflappable parent to the brink. Yes, some finicky tendencies are a normal part of development. But truth is, some of what we’re doing as parents may be making those behaviors even worse (and believe me, I’ve been guilty of a few of these!).
5 Things That Make Picky Eating Worse
Issue #1: Free-range snacking. All day. Everywhere. Kids like to snack, and it can be helpful for them: Smaller bellies may mean they don’t eat very much at one time, and snacks can help them get enough nourishment throughout the day. Snacks also make excellent opportunities to include foods and nutrients your kids aren’t getting at meals. But aimless snacking also makes for kids who are never truly hungry because they’ve been grazing all day–and kids who aren’t hungry have little motivation to eat meals, especially when they involve new foods or foods that aren’t favorites. So they seem difficult at the dinner table, but they’re actually just not hungry.
Instead: Try to have planned times for snacks, such as mid-morning and mid-afternoon. My younger son is a chronic snacker, always has been, so I understand this may not fly with your brood. But at least do this: Keep snacks 1-2 hours away from mealtime. When snacks were interfering with dinner, I implemented a policy of “only-veggies” in the hour before dinner. Worked like a charm. My younger son nibbled on all manner of vegetables, from plain lettuce leaves to carrots with dip. My older son simply waited for the main meal. Read: My Pre-Dinner Snack Strategy
Issue #2: Too much milk and juice. Some kids love milk and juice so much that they fill their bellies with it, leaving little room for actual food. So just like with oversnacking, they’re arriving at the dinner table already full.
Instead: Serve water as much as possible and follow the guidelines for milk and juice.
Here are the recommendations for servings of dairy per day from the USDA (remember that yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified soy milk also count):
|Age Group||Cups of Dairy Per Day|
|Age Group||Amount of Juice|
|Younger than 6 months||No juice at all|
|6-12 months||It’s best to avoid juice (unless recommended for medical reasons)|
|1-3 years||No more than 4 ounces a day of 100-percent juice|
|4-6 years||No more than 4-6 ounces a day of 100-percent juice|
|7-18 years||No more than 8 ounces a day of 100-percent juice|
Issue #3: Buttered noodles. Nuggets. Hot dog. Rinse and repeat. Nobody’s got time for a second job as a short-order cook. So if you’re making something separate for your child every night, consider stopping. Like…tonight! If your child knows there’s a PBJ waiting in the wings, there is no incentive to try the meal you’ve made. Limiting kids to a narrow range of “kid foods” also limits their palates to bland, familiar flavors, which can make it even harder to introduce bolder flavors or new textures.
Instead: Make one meal each night, being sure there’s something on the table your child likes (even if that’s just buttered peas or dinner rolls). Serve more things that allow for a build-it-yourself set-up, whether that’s tacos and burritos, baked potatoes, or even pasta. Pizza and hot dogs are fine occasionally too, but serve them as the meal you’re making everyone, not a separate request in lieu of what everyone else is having. Read: The Dinnertime Rule That Will Change Your Life
Issue #4: Negotiating, bargaining, bribing, begging, pleading. When the dinner table becomes a battleground, it’s an unpleasant place to be, where kids feel pressured, scrutinized, and scolded. Pressuring kids to eat can also cause some (like mine!) to dig in their heels. Then it’s no longer about food and eating, it’s about a power struggle.
Instead: Prioritize a pleasant table above all else–and especially at the expense of counting bites or fixating on what your kid has (or hasn’t) eaten.
Issue #5: Calling your kid “picky”. You’d never tell your kid “You’re not athletic” or “You’re bad at math”. So don’t give them the picky eater label either. It’s like telling your child that you don’t expect him to try anything different or like anything new.
Instead: If your child refuses a food or proclaims he hates something, respond with a casual “I guess you’re still learning about that food” or “You can try it some other time”. Then move on.