Selective Eaters Series
Make meals fun and avoid being a short-order cook
By Colene Stoernell MS, RD, LDN
Selective and picky eating tendencies are very common for young children as they start exploring new foods. Most of the families I work with are often concerned when their child does not “try” new foods and will often mislabel them as “picky” when they are being a normal kid.
For the average child, it can take 8-15 exposures to a new food before it is even tried once! Becoming an adventurous eater takes some time, exposure to new foods, and parental patience.
As a result of this, a lot of families tend to dread mealtime as this may be a stressful time of their day.
It is often frustrating when a child comes to the table and acts out after they see what is on the table. The next thing you know, someone is in the kitchen making the child’s favorite foods.
You think you are winning because your child is eating, but what has happened is the child has trained you to do what they want. Sounds all too familiar? I know as I have been there, but I am going to tell you meals do not have to be this way.
Once a firm meal structure is set up, it is time to roll in the short-order cooking.
Children will eventually try new things if they are in a non-threatening environment, and if done on their terms. If your child is growing and between the ages of 2 and 4, they will typically eat one meal, play with another meal, and refuse a meal.
As parents/caregivers, we also need to trust that the child knows how much their body needs and will eat as much, or as little as is needed. When we start forcing our children to eat more or pester them to “try”, they will resist.
Also, we may be altering their ability to know when they have had enough to eat, which can lead to further challenges down the road.
One tip I recommend to parents:
Make sure there is at least 1 (max of 2) preferred food items at each meal. These foods should be incorporated into the family meal, not separate from the meal. This can make for a fun and sometimes odd meal selection, but at least you know they may eat something.
Also, I often suggest the use of a divided plate such as the teal meal divider plates to make mealtime a little less stressful for the child as most children do not want to have the new foods touching their preferred foods.
The other component to less stressful meals is the parents /caregivers
Instead of stressing over whether or not your child will eat, sit and enjoy the meal with your child. Children can pick up on your anxiety and stress which may make the meal tense for them as well. Letting go and choosing to enjoy your time together will turn a stressful event into a joyful one.
Colene Stoernell MS, RD, LDN
Colene Stoernell is a registered dietitian/nutritionist currently residing in Oregon who works with individuals and families with nutritional struggles. Throughout her career, she has had the pleasure of helping people in many areas of life. Her current areas of specialty are feeding-related disorders, IBD/IBS, Celiac disease, and intuitive eating. She is also the mother of a child with selective eating habits and oral sensitivities and therefore has a personal understanding of the challenges families face with children with feeding concerns. In her spare time, she enjoys being very active with her family in any outdoor activity.