It’s time to eat! Your kitchen is fully stocked with nutritious foods and you’re preparing one of your child’s favorite meals…muffins made with zucchini, apple, and carrots with a side of oatmeal. A tried and true recipe that she has loved every time you’ve made it. You’re feeling so confident, you even shape the food into a smiley face and arrange it on her favorite Disney-themed plate. It’s ready to serve along with a cup of delicious juice. In your mind, you are about to win the parent Superbowl.
As you get her situated in her highchair, you envision scoring the game-winning touchdown. You proudly present this array of yummy goodness and eagerly await her excitement to match yours…
5 seconds go by that feels like a lifetime…
And then… disaster!
Instead of the ecstatic response that you expected, the food you so meticulously prepared receives complete rejection. An uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration starts that feels like it could be the start of the next world war. To top it all off, that beautiful gourmet meal you just made is literally thrown back in your face by your precious little one. You’re left feeling stunned, confused, upset, resisting the urge to throw some food yourself, and questioning everything you’ve ever done in your life. If this is you, we want you to know, you’re not alone…we understand your frustration and we are here to help!
Disclosure: Understand The Causes: Before you classify this behavior as pure defiance, make sure all medical issues are ruled out such as Gastroesophageal Reflex (GER), Constipation, Diarrhea, Food Allergies, and Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Please consult with your child’s pediatrician to ensure this is not a medical issue before proceeding with our behavioral advice.
Many children enter into new behavioral phases as they grow. One of these common behaviors is becoming a picky eater when eating foods they have already eaten or when being introduced to new foods. We understand that dealing with a picky eater can be frustrating, so being patient is key… Your little one might not be old enough to express what is wrong and may need you to be patient and process what they are trying to communicate.
Here are some helpful strategies that may make this obstacle just a little bit easier for you and your child.
Try sitting and eating together. Eating together allows you to model appropriate behavior and prove that there is nothing scary about that broccoli!
Create a meal time routine. Children love routines as it helps them to know what to expect at the same time each day.
Don’t pressure your child to eat. Sometimes when we push for something too much it creates an innate sense to resist. Act normal and stay calm. This may help ease the situation and in turn get them to eat!
If your child is old enough, you can ask them if they want to participate in the cooking experience. Children often enjoy being involved in this process and feel like they are contributing. If they can see and touch what goes into the dish, it may be less scary for them when they see it on their plate.
Give choices. Sometimes children get overwhelmed with the amount of choices. Try giving them the choice between two foods and once they eat one of them, they can receive a small reward. This should be something simple like getting to have a dessert they like after dinner or extra storytime before bed. Whatever works for your family and makes your child feel accomplished!
As tough as this developmental phase can be, stay consistent and keep presenting the same foods to your child (as long as there is no allergy or medical issue associated with the food). As a reminder, your child may need to try food 10-15 times to decide if they like it or not. Even if they decide they don’t like a certain food, that is totally OK! We all have foods we don’t like but that are good for our health and we need to eat anyways if we are not allergic to them. The more they see the same foods on their plates, the less upset and surprised they will be when they are expected to eat them. They will love the meals you prepare again and eventually be more open to new tastes. When they do eat new foods or behave well during meal time, make sure to reward them with encouragement or even a special dessert! These behavioral phases are completely normal and even when it gets hard, there is always a solution! Keep up the great work you are doing and know that we are here to support you!