Having a child who is a “picky” or “selective” eater can cause a lot of stress. We all want our kiddos to get the nutrition they need, so, when they start pushing aside the veggies and turning their noses up at anything but goldfish and chicken nuggets, we start to freak out. This is especially true when we’re talking about kids who may already have nutrient deficiencies or other health concerns.
So, what’s a parent to do? Ignore it! No, don’t ignore the issue entirely, but do your best to ignore the picky eating when it’s happening. Nagging, pressuring, pleading, begging, bribing and the like do little to improve a child’s eating habits. In fact, when those tactics are used during the family dinner, it makes most kids dig in their heals. And it makes mealtime a battle ground instead of a time for your family to come together.
When a kid senses that his eating is the focus of the meal, he has a powerful bargaining chip that he can use to control that time. So, do your best to ignore what he is (or isn’t) eating. Talk about the day, talk about school, talk about life and let him decide what he will or will not eat. This creates a healthy mealtime environment that allows a “picky” eater to relax and observe others enjoying food. When the focus is off of what they will eat, many kids are actually more willing to try new stuff.
Listen to some advice that Dr. Rowell writes in her book Love Me, Feed Me:
“You may have to fake this at first, but ignore what and how much your child is eating. Don’t comment or praise. Most parents I work with on this issue say they spend 95 percent of mealtimes talking about how much and what the selective eater is eating: negotiating, encouraging, bribing. That has to stop. The child must be allowed to participate in the meal, not be the focus. Over and over again I have heard from clients that when the focus was off the child, perhaps when Mom tells Dad about her day or they talk to a sibling, that was when the ‘picky eater’ would sneak a piece of broccoli onto his plate.”
This does not mean that you ignore selective eating entirely. There are things to be done, especially if your concerned about your child’s health or growth. However, attacking the issue by trying to persuade your child to eat more during a mealtime will most likely result in worsening the issue.
Check out these great resources from the Ellyn Satter Institute on how to make your family meals a time that encourages healthy eating for everyone: How To Eat Articles