Feeding picky eaters day in and day out is a hard job. It can be exhausting to always worry about their eating, nutrition, and healthy habits.
But it is so important to remember, that however hard is this journey and however disappointing are some mealtimes, your child is your ally and your trusted partner. And they are doing their absolute best, every day.
My client shared this story with me recently that illustrates it beautifully.
Her 8-year-old daughter has been eating a very limited diet all her life. Recently she treated the mom to an eye-opening experience.
As the girl was watching her adventurous 13-month-old sister devouring her lunch of blue cheese, mushroom pie, and salad, she said:
“I wish I was like her. I wish I could like everything.”
The mom, who was busy cleaning up the kitchen, froze.
It suddenly dawned upon her.
All the time she spent directing all her efforts *at* her daughter, trying to get her to eat xyz, the girl has been working on the same goal, right here, by her side.
– Her 8-year-old has been showing up for family dinners every day.
– She sat at the table throughout the meal.
– She made do with what was available, sometimes putting together a balanced meal and sometimes eating just one or two foods.
– She followed the meal and snack structure the best she could.
– Of course, there were occasional complaints at mealtimes, but then, the mom also could not stop nagging about fruit and veggies on some days 🙂.
– She tried new things occasionally and managed to find ways to enjoy foods that were not her favorites.
In other words, not only has the 8-year-old been ALREADY doing a lot to improve her eating, but she also nailed the things that actually work!
It is hardly surprising that we think that feeding picky eaters must be a battle or at least some kind of manipulation. Just check out some headlines I found online:
- “Proven ways to get your child to eat vegetables”
- “10 sneaky ways to add nutrition”
- “Sticker rewards for good eating”
With this approach, our child turns into an opponent, or, in the best-case scenario, a passive subject of whatever trick we are using today to *get* them to do something.
And in a child’s head, it can be translated into:
- Good nutrition is something they need to be manipulated into.
- Healthy eating can only be measured in cups and spoonfuls.
- What and how they eat can even be related to whether they will feel loved and appreciated.
It’s pretty obvious that feeling this way will not help kids feel relaxed and adventurous at mealtimes. In fact, it is can be a sure shortcut to spike your child’s anxiety and make eating worse.
So please remember: your child’s picky eating is not her choice. However picky our kids are, however, limited their diet is, they want the same things for themselves as we: eating food and enjoying mealtimes. Check this article by child therapist Jo Cormack about childhood experiences of a recovered picky eater, it is truly eye-opening.
To help our kids eat better, we have to make it less about us, parents, “getting” kids to do something and more about working as a team to make family meals run smoothly for everyone.
Within this team, our job is to support our kids, set boundaries and allow flexibility within them, so that our kids can do their job of eating and growing.
But our number one responsibility is to remember that what our kids need the most is our acceptance and support, not another trick.
So every time you consider adding yet another “picky eating tactic” to your mealtimes, ask yourself:
- Am I working with my child as a team or directing my efforts *at* him?
- Would I be comfortable being in my child’s place right now?
- Have I taken the time to appreciate everything my child is ALREADY doing?
- Will it help the child feel loved and appreciated?
- Am I able to accept my child the way he or she is?
What you can do at home:
Remember that your child is already trying her best with food. You can give her love and support where she needs it. Support has many forms, depending on where your child struggles the most. Remember that a hug and sharing a laugh are just as, if not more important as nutritional supplements and sensory exercises.
Connect at mealtimes but avoid mentioning food or her eating. Some children are extra sensitive to mealtime pressure and may feel very anxious before mealtimes because they know that parents have certain expectations. I have seen great success in families where parents stopped looking at a child’s plate altogether. This simple change shifts the mealtime experience for everyone and can start a real transformation for your child.
What you can do if you are in feeding therapy with your child:
Read this amazing resource by Extreme Picky Eating Help to help you choose the therapy approach that will not make eating worse.