Picky Eaters

Kids will often eat cereal as a replacement for any meal. Photo: FlickrAre you struggling with any of the following?

All my child wants to eat is pasta, peanut butter and cereal.

My child is not open to trying new foods.

My child hates vegetables.

It takes lots of coaxing to get my child to eat his supper.

My child has poor eating habits and won't eat dinner with the family.

We try and have family meals together but there never seems to be enough time.

I make several dishes for dinner so that I am sure my child is getting proper nutrition.

In my practice, I see many parents worry about food and whether or not their children are getting enough nutrients into their systems. They nag, threaten, bribe and sometimes fight over meals. This type of tension is not conducive to getting kids to eat well. 

So, what's going on?  Why do kids not want to eat?

First, understand that kids have an abundance of taste buds. (We began losing ours at the age of 21.) This makes them more sensitive to different tastes and textures. Second, kids tastes in food are developing. Your child may not like asparagus right now, but might later. Third, kids don't have the patience to sit down to eat a whole meal for more than a few minutes. So, rather than encouraging negative emotional associations with food, here are some suggestions from a few of my favourite experts: Dr. William Sears, The Successful Child; Dr. Kathryn Tobin, The Parent's Problem Solver; Dr. Jane Nelsen, Positive Discipline A-Z.

  1. Watch for foods that pollute the body such as those high in refined sugars, sodium, and hydrogenated fat.

  2. Good nutrition can 'biochemically' program the body to crave only nutritious food. Of course, the same can be said for the polluting foods where kids crave junk food.

  3. Young kids do well with grazing or lots of mini-meals throughout the day. They eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full.  Offer nutritious whole foods.

  4. Try to stock your shelves with foods that are rich in nutrients rather than offering them food full of empty calories. Avocados, broccoli, cheese, slices of hard boiled eggs, chunks of fish, pasta, peanut butter, blueberries, strawberries, papaya, sweet potato, pieces of cooked chicken, whole grain breads and crackers, plain yogurt, celery or other veggies sticks, fruit slices, etc. are high in minerals and vitamins.

  5. Avoid bribing the kids to eat, with junk food.This puts an emotional value on 'treats' which teaches kids to feed their emotions.

  6. Avoid eating in front of the TV. This should be a non-negotiable rule.

  7. Don't try to make your child eat everything as this will only invite power struggles.

  8. Don't give your child undue attention for not eating.

  9. Avoid making special meals for each child. It's disrespectful to you.

  10. Take you kids shopping with you and play games that teach your child how to make healthy choices. For example, the Colour Game sends your child down the produce aisle with the following instructions: Pick two yellows, two reds and two greens. Be sure to let them know that the darker the colour, the greater the nutrients. Or, Pick Five is a game that can be played on any aisle and helps your child to learn which foods help them to grow.  Pick five foods that will help you to grow. Teach them to read labels and look for words like 'whole' as in whole grain.

  11. Consider some of the new cookbooks for parents that hide vegetables in recipes, like zucchini in pasta sauce.

  12. Encourage family fitness. Children can learn that a healthy body is not limited to healthy foods alone. Children who exercise are more fit and will live healthier and longer lives.

Getting kids to eat well also requires that parents take a look at what they're doing to encourage healthy choices. Do your eating habits set a good example for your children? If not, then making small changes to your diet is the first place to start. And, don't try going cold turkey. This can lead to failure.
Also, it's likely not realistic to totally eliminate junk food. Let's face it, this stuff tastes good. Don't go ballistic if your kids ask for it, but consider limiting it to special occasions like the Super Bowl, birthday parties, etc. Remember, a well-balanced diet should offset any harm these foods create. The key here is to move towards healthier choices and to avoid making a big issue about food.

If your friends sign up at www.theparentingcoach.ca, they'll receive The #1 Mistake Good Parents Make with my compliments.

By Terry Carson| August 09, 2010
Categories:  Blog

About the Author

Terry Carson

Terry Carson

Terry Carson is an educator and mother of four. A popular resource as a parenting coach expert throughout North America, she’s been featured repeatedly in the media including The Globe and Mail, Today’s Parent, Planet Parent, Save Us From Our House, Breakfast Televison, Yummy Mummy and countless radio shows and publications.

Terry helps her parent clients get back their control without spanking or shouting. Her most popular workshop, You’re Not The Boss of Me!, provides seventeen strategies to get rid of whining, not listening, complaining, temper tantrums, and other power struggles. For more information on Terry and her workshops, visit: TheParentingCoach.ca

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