Is Your Child A Picky Eater? 5 Simple Strategies for Making Mealtimes Less Stressful
Are mealtimes a source of stress and contention in your home? Do you feel like a short order cook? Could you own stock in peanut butter or macaroni and cheese? All of these and more are common complaints that I hear from parents surrounding mealtimes. If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, or have a similar experience, the following strategies are for you.
- Relax – This can be very hard to accomplish, especially in our fast- paced society, but slowing down and remaining calm; can make a huge difference at mealtimes. Children who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed find it very difficult to be open to trying something new. When the environment is calm, it allows the child to relax and be more willing to try new things. Try having everyone in the family take some deep breaths, play some quiet soothing music, do a few stretches or yoga moves, or engage in a quiet activity such as reading prior to mealtimes. This will help the mind and body to feel more relaxed before sitting down for a meal.
- Establish a Routine – Putting together a mealtime routine can greatly reduce stress at meals. Having your child participate in washing hands, setting the table, and joining the family for the meal, and clean up can support a calm environment for eating.
- Start Small – The key to introducing new foods to picky eaters is to start small. Begin with the foods your child currently eats, and make a very small change to that food; or find a food that is very similar but not previously eaten by your child. For example: If your child currently only eats elbow-shaped macaroni and cheese, try serving spiral or character-shaped noodles instead. Slowly introduce more changes over time until your child is willing to eat any type of macaroni and cheese, including homemade.
- Involve Your Child – Have your child be a part of preparing the meal. Even young children can help stir ingredients with assistance. Older children can assist in more of the mealtime preparation. You can also involve your child in planning meals that include at least one item you know they will eat. Don’t expect that your child will eat what s/he has helped to prepare; but you never know when there might be interest in tasting an ingredient or two.
- Make Mealtime Fun – Arrange food in interesting ways on the plate, such as making a face or animal shape. Play a game of musical seats at the table where everyone sits in a different spot; or have a mixed up meal where you eat dessert first. Take turns coming up with silly things to talk about during the meal. Bringing fun to the table can take away the stress of eating.
Eating is a big undertaking, and for children with limited diets it can be even more difficult. If you have tried these and other strategies without success, it may be time to seek professional support. Some kids need just a little push, and they are then on their way to eating more; but for others, it requires more support and directed guidance. While it is common for toddlers and young children to go through picky phases or periods of time when they eat less, prolonged periods of limited diets and reduced intake can require professional assistance.
To schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your child’s picky eating difficulties, call (616) 698-0306 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Erin Roon, M.A. CCC-SLP
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