As parents we want our kids to get all the nutrients they need to grow into big, strong and healthy bodies. When they are young and being introduced to foods, it can be so exciting to see them try new foods and enjoy them! It can also be frustrating when you present new foods to your child and they give you disinterest and resistance. In our current society, many of us are hyper focused on specific nutrients, both macro (i.e. protein, fat and carbohydrates) and micro (things like vitamin C and iron). This focus can become anxiety provoking as parents when we see that our child isn’t getting what we consider to be the proper amount of different foods to meet these needs. Often times this leads us to use counterproductive tactics to “help” our child eat more foods, or more of a specific food, and this can lead to resistance from the child.
So what can you do as a parent to best support your child’s food needs while also promoting an environment where the child feels safe and comfortable saying yes to food, no to food, and learning to listen to their own hunger and satiety cues? First let’s briefly go over what normal picky eating looks like.
What is “normal” picky eating and is it JUST MY CHILD?
About 1 in 3 to one-half of kids are considered picky eaters. So no, it’s not just your child!
If your child is picky they may show these kinds of characteristics:
- Has favorite foods
- Often prefers carbs
- Your child may not LOVE everything you serve, but is not overly upset by the food options
- Goes through phases of loving foods and not being so crazy about them (i.e. last week my kid LOVED bananas and now they keep leaving them on their plate. What happened?!)
- In general, by the end of the week they have eaten from all food groups (maybe not in the amount you would like, but in general, they have had some protein, fat, fruit, veggies and carbs).
So for those of you parents who are feeling panicked about your kid exhibiting these behaviors, know that THIS IS COMPLETELY NORMAL.
What can you do?
First off, take a deep breath and sigh it out. Yes, this is normal and no you aren’t crazy for being frustrated.
Steps you can take to better the eating experience for your child:
- Think about your eating attitudes. What are you bringing into the kitchen that may benefit your child? What issues are bringing in that may be getting in the way of your child feeling excited and safe about new foods?
- Identify the root issue with what is going on with your child and you. Is your child not hungry? Do they not like what is being served? Is it a normal developmental milestone that just needs to play out rather than be confronted? Often times it’s helpful to have the opinion of a nonbiased 3rd party to help you identify this.
- Address any anxiety that is happening around mealtime. Anxiety leads to decreased appetite.
- Establish a food routine. Kids need to know what is to be expected, especially with things that meet their basic needs like eating. If they know when food will be expected, then they will not spend their time and energy worrying about when they will eat next.
- Make eating time a family event. Studies show that children who have family meals do better in all ways: nutritionally, socially, emotionally, and academically. Family meals have more to do with adolescents’ positive outcome than social economic status, family structure, after-school activities, tutors, or church.
If you would like support to better learn how to help your child have a positive experience with food, make an appointment today!
Written By: Brooke Brandeberry, MS, CN, LMHCa
Webinar “Extreme” Picky Eating: Characteristics and Contributing Factors through a Relational Lens. Katja Rowell, MD and Peggy Crum, MA, Rd. Dietician Central
Webinar “Extreme” Picky Eating Part II: Responsive Feeding Support and Treatment Approach. Katja Rowell, MD and Peggy Crum, MA, Rd. Dietician Central
Satter, Ellyn. Secrets of Feeing a Healthy Family. 2008. Kelcy Press, Madison, WI.