I’m sure most parents would agree that getting kids off to a great start by feeding them healthy meals is an important goal. However, sometimes this can be as easy as trying to give the cat a bath in the washing machine! The evidence clearly shows us that it’s worth the hassle, though. What and how much we feed our children in their early years can have a huge impact on their health the rest of their lives.
Kids are inherently picky … but they don’t have to stay that way. My middle child would have been content to live on nothing but cheeseburgers for the rest of his life, but sadly for him, he was born into a family with a determined dietitian as his mother! One of our jobs as parents is to help our children gain skills that will allow them to not only function in society, but to thrive.
Although mealtime can at times feel like a battleground, here are tips to help you win the war:
1. We as parents are the best judge of what children can eat and when, but they are the best judge of how much they should eat. You don’t have to panic if your child doesn’t clean his plate at lunch today. In fact, he may seem to survive on only a few bites of foods for days at a time, but suddenly he will have hungry days where he seems to eat everything in sight. Trust his internal signals to tell him that he is hungry or satisfied. Many adults discover that they never learned how to do this, which leads to overeating even when not hungry.
2. Offer a variety of healthful and tasty foods. Don’t be afraid to offer a wide variety. Be adventurous! Remember that it might take 15-20 tries before a food seems more comfortable to a child. Keep offering!
3. Serve meals and snacks on a regular schedule. If kids have unlimited access to snacks, it’s not surprising when they aren’t hungry when dinnertime rolls around. And if you think ahead to your child’s future, do you really want him grazing all day long as an adult?
4. Make mealtimes pleasant. Yes, meals can feel like a battleground, but they shouldn’t be allowed to stay this way. Food should be used as nourishment, not as a reward or punishment. Food bribery and constant mealtime arguments usually create more problems in the long run than they solve. There is a wealth of research that shows us that family meals, especially pleasant ones, lead to better performance in school, less risk-taking behavior, and better health.
5. Teach good manners at the table. Again, this is yet another opportunity to teach your children skills that will allow them to function well in normal society.
6. Set a good example. If you want your child to eat his vegetables, first of all you need to buy them and offer them, but equally important, you need to eat them, too!
7. Stick to your guns! If you constantly cave in and provide your child’s favorites in addition to the meal provided to the rest of the family, you have doomed yourself to a life as a short order cook. You will also have robbed your child of the opportunity to learn healthy eating habits that will serve him well for years to come.
If you have questions about feeding a picky child, call the Hendricks Regional Health registered dietitians/nutritionists (RDN’s) at (317) 745-3470. If you feel that your challenges are more complicated than can addressed in a quick phone call, talk to your child’s physician about getting a referral to meet with an RDN one-on-one.