Establishing a new healthy lifestyle for yourself can be hard – made harder still if you’re already surrounded by picky eaters at home. Which these days isn’t rare as almost 50 percent of parents identify their little ones as picky eaters. Add in a partner who lacks the pallet for healthier options, and you’ve got a table set with stress, frustration and challenges that is likely impacting your own health and wellness goals.
It’s hard enough to stay on track when meal times can be a battlefield, with you more often than not, feeling like you’re outnumbered. Not to mention concerns about wasting food and whether or not your kids are getting enough ‘good’ foods in them while trying to limit the ‘bad’.
So what’s a Mom to do when her own health and wellness goals are challenged further by the endless planning around her family’s ever changing food preferences? Take a deep breath and hang in there! Here are my top 5 tips for staying on track with a household full of broccoli boycotters.
1. Embrace the Phase
Like with most things with kids, it helps to view ‘picky eating’ as a phase. After all, for so many of them, this stage is normal and one that they will eventually grow out of. That being said, this makes it even more important to stay the course and continue to introduce and re-introduce healthy foods into their diets.
By labelling our children as “picky eaters,” we’re actually labelling developmentally normal behaviours as defiant which can make interactions with our kids during mealtimes stressful and cause everyone to feel anxious.
If we assign a ‘picky eater’ label to our kids, we’re likely to subconsciously stop trying to feed them different foods and may be creating our own story about their eating habits. Not to mention, depending on the age of your children, they too may adopt that as their story and use that as their reasons to avoid eating vegetables or try new foods.
Research suggests that with time and repeated exposures—without pressure—most children will accept new foods. By taking the focus off ‘being compliant’ and eating things and putting it on creating a healthy relationship with food, it takes the pressure off everyone and they’ll be more likely to try new things and adopt a more exploratory approach when it comes to food.
2. Practice Healthy Habits
If you yourself are just embarking on this new healthy lifestyle or have flip-flopped in and out of healthy eating habits, expecting your child to adopt these healthy habits is not realistic. Which is why it’s important that we ourselves regularly practice and maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat healthy foods with our children, so that they adopt these healthy habits long-term. Children who have parents that model healthy lifestyles have been reported to be ‘less picky’ and are more likely to try new foods and eat more fruits and vegetables as a result.
3. Give Them Autonomy, But Don’t Give In
Giving kids the autonomy to choose their preferences during meal times is a win-win situation as it allows them to exert some independence, while also eating foods that you have prepared.
Getting your kids involved in the weekly meal planning by asking them what they would like to eat for the week or by taking them grocery shopping and getting them to pick out new fruits and vegetables to try is a great way to initiate this process.
Allowing your kids the choice and options of what to eat doesn’t mean you need to eat chicken fingers every night either. By making meals more ‘kids friendly’ (like serving a Thai dish that’s not as spicy) helps our kids to try new flavours and foods and expands their growing pallets. Letting them serve themselves works well too so that they can determine the amount or what foods of the meal they like and don’t like (for example, not including the sauce).
4. If You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again
It’s not the end of the world if your kid doesn’t like broccoli – but if you turn it into a pressure-filled situation… it’s definitely going to be the end of broccoli… for a while.
A study in the UK explored different methods that encouraged children to try disliked vegetables. The findings revealed that after 2 weeks, the most successful strategies included a combination of repeated daily exposure, offering non-food rewards for trying the disliked food and parents eating the same food as the child. Which reminds us that even if our kids have rejected a food, it’s important for us to continue to try serving it to them repeatedly, without pressure as it will typically yield positive results.
Knowing that It can take between 10 to 15 exposures to get a child to like a new food will help to give us perspective and not react when our kids don’t necessarily ‘take’ to the food the first few times that we offer it. Remembering as well, that getting our kids to taste a new food, rather than eat it is also easier, so start by offering small portions. Praising your child for trying new foods, but remaining neutral if they choose not to eat it, is also essential for reducing mealtime stress and anxiety.
5. Get Your Kids In The Kitchen
Kids who are actively involved in preparing meals and being in the kitchen with their parents for the prepping and cooking process have more positive attitudes towards food and are more likely to subsequently eat the food that they have helped prepare, research tells us.
Having your kids help you with the meal prepping and cooking process naturally increases the amount of healthy food they eat in the short term, while providing them with the tools to maintain these healthy habits for the long-term.
Getting the entire family involved in preparing the family meals also helps reduce the amount of stress from falling to one person and offers a great time to connect with one another while you prepare meals together. Engage your younger kids by getting them to wash foods while you chop, or set the table while dinner is in the oven. Have the older ones help chop up the food and help with picking spice combinations to add to the meal.
By allowing our kids to develop their own taste, preferences and enjoyment of healthy foods as well as engaging them in mealtime preparation, we help remove the stress of ‘picky eater’ syndrome as well as create a home that is centred around having everyone contribute to the responsibilities of prepping and cooking food. Ultimately these practices lead to healthier diets for all in the short-term and healthier lifestyles that will last lifetimes.
Do you struggle with picky eaters? Email me and tell me what your biggest challenges are!
With love and nut butter,