Do you feel like a short order chef?
Does your child only eat chicken nuggets?
Do you find mealtimes stressful?
Eating is not as simple as putting food down in front of you and eating it. It involves 32 steps, from being able to be in the same room as food, to tolerating food on your plate, to being able to smell the food, touching the food, picking up food and bringing it to your mouth, then tasting it, chewing it and finally swallowing it. Kids can get stuck at any one of these steps and often think that they eat with their eyes. They decide once they look at the food they don’t want it. Our aim is to help to reduce the stress surrounding mealtimes and to help your fussy eater want to try new foods.
Here are a few tips on helping your child to stick around at mealtime and reducing the stress:
- Offer at least one food that your child will eat with every meal. Having one familiar food that they like on their plate will give them a place to start eating. It will allow them to stay calmer when at the table and to eat with the family.
- Be patient when offering new foods. Remember there are 32 steps to eating, so just having a new food on your child’s plate might be a step in the right direction. Talk about the food you are eating – mention the colour, texture, size, shape, if it is hard or soft, if it needs to be cut, what it looks like (a tree for broccoli, a tooth for a piece of corn). Remember – talking about food is also a step in the right direction!
- Have your child become a member of the cooking, shopping and meal planning team. If they participate in planning the meal, shopping for food, and preparing the food, they are again tolerating food more. They will get excited about the meal and food. This doesn’t mean they will eat the food, but they will be more engaged in the whole process.
- Focus on food at eating time. Get rid of the distractions! Turn off the TV, put your phone on silent, leave the iPad in another room and don’t answer the phone (it is probably just someone selling you insurance anyway). Talk about your day, talk about the food and enjoy spending time together at meal times.
- Eat at the table as a family for at least one meal a day. Kids learn best by mirroring actions, so they need to see you eat, they need to eat with you, they need to see you try new foods, they need to see how you deal with food you don’t like. Serve the food family style in bowls on the table. Let your child (if old enough) serve themselves. They can decide how much of each food they want, but must take some, even if it is just to talk about the food.
- 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. If your child grazes and eats all day long they will not learn what it is like to feel hungry or full. Offering water between meals instead of juice or milk can assist with the hunger cycle.
Mealtime can be stressful especially if your child is a picky eater, so taking away the stress of mealtime is our first goal. A book by Ellyn Satter “How to Get Your Child to Eat But Not too Much” is a great resource for parents of children who are fussy eaters.