Kids are picky! They like something one day and they don't the next. It is FRUSTRATING I know! But despite that, we need to 'stay in our lane' and know that we are only responsible for WHAT, WHEN and WHERE meals are served and let our kids be in charge of HOW MUCH or WHETHER they eat anything at all. Here are the top things to AVOID saying at the dinner table and what you can do instead to bring peace back to mealtimes.
1. "What do you want for dinner?"
Sorry kids, this isn't a restaurant. You can't order anything you want. When planning family meals, I love the phrase, "be considerate, without catering". Serve the foods that your family (as a whole) generally likes and offer servings to everyone without pressure to eat anything on the plate. Offer at least 1 food you know they will eat and serve the meal with a grain option (such as bread, tortilla, bun, etc.) and milk. If all else fails, they can have bread and milk. Give them a "no thank you" plate to put any unwanted food.
2. "You must finish your broccoli before you get dessert"
When we use bribes like this, we are teaching our kids the good they must eat is so BAD they need to be coerced into eating it. They need to plough through the "gross" stuff before they get the "good" stuff. Pressure, of any kind, backfires and causes them to further reject that food you are trying to encourage them to eat. Instead, offer a variety of foods including vegetables and model eating them yourself. If the family is having dessert then serve dessert to everyone, regarless of how much of each food was eaten. In fact, you may want to start serving dessert WITH the meal to take away from some of the excitement.
3. "Two more bites and then you are done"
Your little person is the only one who knows how hungry or how full they are. They are born with this intuition. When we tell them they need to eat more, we are telling them WE know more about their internal cues than they do. When your little person says they are done, remind them that the next meal/ snack isn't for 2 (or 3) hours and that they need to make sure their body is full as there won't be another chance to eat until then. If they agree to leave, they are done, clear the plate. No panhandling for snacks 15 minutes later though.
4. "You need to eat your chicken, it's protein, you want to be strong right?"
Nutrition information is generally not helpful for young kids and can be interpreted as another form of pressure. This can backfire and lead to the child refusing to eat that food. Talking about "being strong" or "having muscles" is just another unintended way we translate appearance ideals which can be detrimental to body image in the long run. As I like to say, "mind your plate" and don't worry about how much of each food is eaten. It's not our responsibility as the parents to get them to eat!
5. "You have to try it"
This is a tough one. We want them to actually try foods, as chances are, they will like. But this is again a form of pressure. Toddlers and kids are naturally weary of new or different foods. Just seeing that you eat that food, model your acceptance, and having it on their own plate is "food exposure" and kids generally need between 15-25 exposures before they actually put it in their mouth.
You're doing your best! Just keep showing up, presenting the food in a no pressure setting, and I promise you will get there.
Is your picky eater making meal time a nightmare?
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