Help for your picky eater
By Randy Cale, PH.D
• Do you end up preparing three meals every night?
• Are there endless negotiations over food?
• Do you worry about health concerns because your stubborn child only eats junk?
If so, then you share this struggle with millions of parents. And yet, the situation is almost always easily resolved with clear guidance and a firm commitment to build healthy patterns of eating. I have witnessed the most stubborn of picky eaters surrender their habits in just a matter of days.
However, because you are changing a pattern of behavior, the change is not always easy. In fact, many times you will have to overcome your own personal struggles with false ideas such as, “I can’t let them go to bed hungry.” Well, yes you can, if you realize that they are choosing to go to bed hungry after you offered them wonderful, delicious food. They have to learn from their choices.
If you decide that you will feed them junk food in response to their refusal to eat healthy food, you set up a pattern where their resistance is actually “fed” and rewarded by you giving in and letting them eat junk food. This is a recipe for disaster (no pun intended).
Below is a quick-start version of what you must to do to get a handle on your picky eater. For more details, make sure you check out my website www.TerrificParenting.com.
1. Adjust your mindset.
To expand the foods your child eats, it is essential to let go of the idea that you can (or should) force or demand your kids to eat healthy food. Please notice my choice of words carefully, as we must drop the idea of “demanding” our children to eat.
This is not to say that you relinquish the goal of healthy eating. We do not. It simply acknowledges that forcing or demanding your children to eat healthier will not work.
2. Start by cleaning out your pantry.
Get rid of all the junk food: soda, potato chips, ice cream, candy bars, etc. Simply do not have these foods in your house. Instead, substitute healthy alternatives such as an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
3. Announce: “I’m no longer the short-order cook.”
This is when you must walk your talk. Prepare healthy meals with a variety of foods and let the kids know that this is the meal for the evening. There will be no additions or changes depending on the preferences of anyone in the family.
4. If children complain or resist eating the healthy food, use this very simple formula for communicating with them:
“You have a choice. Eat what’s here and you will feel good. Or, don’t eat, complain, pick at your food and you will feel hungry. You choose.” Then, just leave them to decide.
5. If any of your children refuse to eat, do not battle with them and don’t allow them to get alternative food. Just stick to your guns.
If children complain and pick at their food, ignore them. Instead, engage with someone else at the table, simply ignoring their complaints and criticisms of the food. When your child begins to talk without complaint or begins eating, engage and talk to them freely.
7. Don’t worry if they go to bed hungry a few nights. They will readily survive an occasional night here and there without an evening meal.
You must trust that the natural learning processes of nature will begin to take hold in the days ahead. When your children learn that there will be no fights over food and that no other options are available after a meal, the hunger that they experience eventually becomes a powerful teacher. They will learn to eat what is offered MOST of the time. Don’t sweat the other times, as they will grow fewer and farther apart.
As a reminder, these guidelines will eliminate and reduce symptoms of picky eating. If your child is exhibiting more serious symptoms consistent with a possible eating disorder, it is imperative that you obtain a professional evaluation and possible intervention.
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.