Living with a picker eater, child or adult can be a real pain but it is not a helpless situation.
What is picky eating is when a child or an adult prefers to eat the same type of food over and over or refuses food often. Most picky eaters are also slow eaters and may actually find it hard sometimes to swallow.
When you lead a busy life and you have other family members to feed, then one, just one of them gives you panic attack every time you want to sit at the table; It can be tiring.
Most time it is not the picky eating but how you handle it that becomes a problem. You mostly work yourself into a rage because you are not thinking of how to help your child to eat but how you are going to deal with him if he refuses to eat.
So before you call everyone to the table you are already prepared for battle. Oftentimes, in desperation you may feel you have no other choice than to:
- resort to giving in or punishing the child during meals
- letting the child go hungry occasionally in response to their habit
But, your child is also prepared and sometimes you lose. He ends up not eating again. And you? You end up with more anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness and a little nagging feeling of being manipulated?
Children are also pretty smart. They also know when you are pressed for time. They are aware that if they harass you enough, you will give in to their demands. So they will throw tantrums, refuse to eat till they eventually wear you out and you give in to their demand.
There are several things that could cause a child to become a picky eater. Take a look at some of the causes and see if you are familiar with any.
# 1 Are you a “food intake enforcer”
It is your duty to prepare nutritious food for your family but they have a right to decide how much they will eat or if they will eat at all.
You may be thinking now –“What? It is my duty to make sure my child eats what I give him, whether he wants to or not”
Ok! This is me asking, “But, how is that working out for you”?
Not really well, right.
Most time mothers become cooks as well as “food intake enforcer”
What you fail or do not want to consider is that your child is an individual with personal preferences in food. How many times have they chosen the blue sweater over the green? They like the blue sweater. They may not have chosen the blue to spite you or get attention. They just do not like it. Have you ever considered that they may not just like the food?
Find something they do like. There must be something. Find it.
Offer several food choices at each meal so your child can chose what he wants to eat. He is not on a diet where he has to be restricted to certain foods. If you have ever been on a restrictive diet you will know how that feels. Give them options, let them choose.
Your child’s appetite just like your own fluctuates from day to day. Sometimes you eat a lot some other days not so much. It may not mean that something is wrong or that they are sick.
# 2 Overloaded plates
I get overwhelmed and lose my appetite when my plate is heaped with any type of food. There are others like that; your child may dislike it too. Do not scare your child with a plate filled up with food. Give them little portions at a time. It will be easier for them to finish and ask for more.
# 3 Comparing your child
Parents who believe that their child is abnormally small for their age or who habitually compare them with other kids may end up making their children picky about their food. At this point you are thinking about how big and tall the other child is. Most times it is not the food they are eating. Genetics also has a lot to do with it.
This may make you react by forcing your child to eat what he does not like to make him look like child B. But he is not child B; he is him with unique taste and preference.
# 4 Meals time as punishment time
Do not give them the bad eye of disapproval when they are eating or if they do not finish their food.
If your child is not hungry, don’t force a meal or snack on them. Disciplining your child at meal time or choosing mealtime to talk about what they have done wrong or pick a quarrel with your spouse will certainly decrease appetite. When you are unhappy you do not want to eat. They may associate meal time with unhappy events and get anxious. These may decrease appetite.
# 5 Fast and convenient meals
Most times in our busy schedule, it is easy to see the “1 second noodles” as a life saver. It is easy to prepare, cheap and convenient for you. But that convenience has a catch. Eventually, that child will become addicted to the taste of that food and the pleasurable feeling associated with eating that food. He will crave and ask for that food.
Or it may be the soft drink and donut that you give them so they can leave you alone to work. It becomes an acquired taste.
Sometimes we just give breast milk even when we know that it is time to start introducing the child to semi solid and solid food. We still breast feed because it is easy and convenient. (No cooking or washing up is needed). But that also has a catch.
When a child becomes very and I mean very familiar with the taste of breast milk it may become difficult to get them to eat other foods. In desperation you may give them chocolate drink. They get used to it too and refuse to eat anything else.
Take extra time to make preparing and eating an enjoyable experience. Fast and convenient may turn out to not really be helpful in the long term.
# 6 Influence and imitation
Most children like to copy others. Your food preference as a mother most times affects your child’s food choices. It is mostly what you eat and give them that they eat. Your child’s friends also play a significant role in the development of your child’s food habits and choice . If a family member, another child or a friend refuses a particular food, your child may imitate them.
# 7 Food timing
The timing of your child’s snack should not be too close to the next meal. If it is, the child may not want to eat or eat less.
# 8 Boring and lack of creativity when preparing meals
Preparing food and serving them the same way can get monotonous even for adults. Make meal time interesting. Don’t just buy the same elbow Pasta, buy pasta with alphabets. Let your child help you pick the alphabets to cook and what to use as sauce for these extraordinary alphabets, that will make their homes in his belly and help him to study and remember words.
For you as a parent
Avoid negotiating with your child. Do not play the game of “eat this or finish what is on your plate and you get this”
Make whatever they always ask for part of their meal, in little portions, whether they eat or not, so that it will lose its power.
Avoid giving rewards for eating because eventually they will start asking for rewards for eating anything and for other things that are not food related.
Allow your child to feed himself sometimes. That maybe all he wants, just a little autonomy. Give him finger sized and toddler sized food to feed himself while you supervise.
Offer healthy food to your child regularly but do not force him to eat it.
This will make him realize that he is not under pressure, instead of resisting you, he will become familiar with it and taste it.
Picky eating does not mean unhealthy all the time, it just means that they are more particular about what they eat.
Most kids will eventually outgrow the habit in mid-childhood, but you should also consult a Doctor to make sure that your child is not suffering from nutritional deficiency or growth issues.