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Do you have a picky eater at home? You are not alone. This is one of the most common concerns that parents have about their children. While there is no quick fix to this issue, there are some things that you can do to help your child overcome.
Remember, children learn from those around them, so you need to start by setting a good example. Children also respond to our emotions, so do your best to stay calm and not turn mealtimes in to a battle.
The following are some guidelines to help you on your journey.
While it sounds simple enough, it can take some getting used to. Ever told your child, “Just 2 more bites,” or “take one more bite of green beans and then you can get down.” The division of responsibility takes away the tension at the table and can make dinnertime more relaxed. It’s ok to give your child choices - like choosing between 2 options that you can prepare for mealtime or snack. Once you serve the food, though, there is no bribing, no negotiating, no arguing and no pressure. It may be hard, especially if your child only eats a piece of bread, but give it time. If you feel stressed, try not to let it show. Also remember, it can take up to 10-15 times for a child to even try a new food. It’s ok to let them just taste, smell, or touch the food to get used to it. Family meals are important, so have them sit at the table with the family, even if they don’t want to eat.
2. Have a schedule for meals and snacks.
Having a set schedule for meals and snacks provides structure to your child’s day and allows them to know when to expect to eat. It also gives the child an opportunity to build up an appetite. If your child is asking for a specific food, you can let them know when it will be served instead of saying “no” you can’t have that. Schedule breakfast, lunch and dinner and then a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack, allowing for ~ 2.5 to 3.5 hours in-between each. If your child skips an opportunity to eat, they will need to wait until the next scheduled meal or snack.
3. Make only ONE meal
This is important for the kids (they need to learn to be receptive to new foods) but also for the parent (who has time to make a different meal for each child?).
When doing this it is important to make sure that there is at least one thing on the table that your child will eat (even if it is just fruit, or a bowl of rice). It is also okay to “deconstruct” the meal. If your child doesn’t like the food all mixed in a casserole, you can offer the foods separately.
4. Take the pressure off dinner.
Dinner doesn’t have to be the most important meal of the day (as in the meal that everyone eats their veggies). Serve fruits, veggies and good source of protein at other meals/snacks. the goal is for your child to eat variety of foods throughout the day. If they have eaten well earlier in the day, then you can lower your expectations for dinner, especially if your child is tired or crabby at the end of the day.
5. Take power away from dessert
Dessert is often put on a pedestal. It’s the yummy thing you get to eat after you’ve eaten the “yucky” food. It’s important to convey that dessert is not better than the rest of the meal. We want kids to enjoy their dinner as much as dessert. Consider serving dessert alongside the dinner meal. Allow your child to serve him/herself a reasonable portion of dessert, along with other foods, and manage it him/herself. The main thing is to not use dessert or sweets as a reward, a punishment or a bargaining chip to get your child to eat other foods.
6. Take control of snacking
According to dietician Natalie Stasenko, “Done right, snacks will help children meet their nutritional needs and have the patience to wait for main meals with the family. Done wrong, they may ruin the mealtime experience for everyone and affect nutrition.” A child is not going to come to the dinner table hungry and receptive to new foods when they have spent the whole day snacking or grazing. Guidelines to consider for serving snacks:
Most snacks should look like "meal foods" not "packaged snack foods" (but “fun” or “snacky” foods are fine occasionally).
Important to remember, don’t give your child a snack to eat for distraction or because they are bored. That is setting them up for poor eating habits in the future.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2017) The Picky Eater Project: 6 Weeks to Happier, Healthier Family Mealtimes, by Natalie Muth and Sally Sampson.
I adapted this post with permission from this site. I like this website as a resource for parents, as the author is a dietician and mother, and she provides some “real world” mealtime advice and ways to achieve balance with nutrition.