By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Does your son gag on brussel sprouts? Does he fly into a rage if his hotdog touches his fries? Does your daughter seem to thrive on tater tots and applesauce? Meal time can be frustrating when your concern is nutrition and your child’s concern is chips and Fruit Loops. What is a caring parent to do? Begin by considering the following do's and don'ts of dealing with your picky eater.
Don't get involved in a power struggle. It takes two to have a power struggle. Stop pushing or pulling. Power over will not work with a three-year-old or a teen. Activate the concept of power with rather than power over by using some of the strategies which follow,
Do remember that a healthy relationship with your child is as important as healthy eating. If you make your son sit until he cleans his plate, you might muscle him into eating a piece of fruit. At the same time, you will be harming your relationship. Overpowering, bribing, or bullying may win compliance. It will not create mutual respect.
Don'’t become a short-order cook. If you're serving meatloaf and your daughter chooses not to eat it, do not offer to cook her a hotdog. People don't select food off a menu when eating at home. What is served is what is served. If your son vomits when he smells spaghetti, allow him to fix something for himself from a limited selection; for instance, a peanut butter or cheese sandwich.
Do create side dishes. If you know your daughter doesn't like meatloaf, create side dishes that she does enjoy. Since she will eat corn and applesauce, combine that with meatloaf for the dinner meal.
Do give choices to help your child feel empowered. Offer only choices that you can live with no matter what option is selected. "We are having milk. You can choose the green cup or the red cup." "I'll be putting some peas on your plate. Do you want a lot or a little? One spoonful or two?" Giving choices results in less resistance and happier meal times.
Do invite children to test new foods. "We're having some avocado tonight as a new experience. Put a bit on your plate and check it out if you want." Do not insist they eat it. Offer it as a choice and let it go. Goading and nagging will invite them to dig in their heels.
Do teach children how to remove food they don't like from their mouths. "If you taste it and you decide it's not for you tonight, put your napkin to your mouth and quietly put the food into it. Let me show you how."
Do appreciate effort. "I noticed you gave your mouth an opportunity to taste guacamole. I appreciate your willingness to give it a chance." "Thank you for tasting the kidney bean. You sure are a risk taker."
Do keep your feelings separate from your child's behaviors. When you say to your daughter, "That makes me happy," or "I just love it when you try different foods," you're inviting her to draw the conclusion that she can control your feelings and emotions with her eating habits. That gives a toddler an inappropriate sense of power.
Don't take it personally. Yes, you worked for an hour or more preparing dinner. Yes, you went out of your way to purchase foods your son likes. Still, refuse to take it personally if he won't eat it. His reaction is not about you. It's about him. Let it go.
Do model. "I bought a vegetable I haven't tasted since I was a kid: broccoli. I'm going to take just a small bite to test it. If I like it, I can always have more" It doesn't matter if you like it or not. What matters is that you modeled taking a risk and giving it a shot.
Do not provide junk food. If children don't eat at mealtime, so be it. Do not, however, allow them to have unlimited use of the kitchen between meals. And snacking on junk food is definitely off-limits.
Do not bribe. "If you eat your vegetables, I'll take you out for ice cream later." Children learn from this that we don't eat vegetables because they're healthy. We eat vegetables so we can get ice cream.
Do use substitutes. If you know your daughter hates the taste, texture and smell of meat, do not insist she eat it. To be sure she gets some protein, serve it in other forms during the week. Cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, eggs, and other protein substitutes can be used instead of meat on occasion.
Do change the format and the texture. Vegetables often look different to a child if they are thinly sliced or cut up in a different way. Fried chicken may garner less resistance served in a wrap or stir-fried with rice, or dunked in dressing or catsup.
Do teach the importance of eating a variety of colors. Fruit and vegetables are words that often provoke resistance. Talk instead about eating all the colors: green, red, white, orange, even blue. If a child learns to eat all the colors, he will have a healthy and balanced diet.
Do remember that you, too, once had foods you preferred not to eat. Have you had any snails lately? How about raw oysters? By now you have probably learned to eat them. Or perhaps not. Regardless, your children will most likely grow into healthy adults, just as you did.
Relax. Create a fun family time at meals. And bring home an octopus tonight.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of Parent Talk Essentials. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children.They publish a free Uncommon Parenting blog.To obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their website today: www.uncommon-parenting.com.