Can you believe it’s already November? As the seasons change and the end of the year approaches a certain kind of restlessness can come along. With days getting shorter and darker and the holidays looming in the near future, this time of year can be exhausting because there’s so much to do and not enough time. Unfortunately, this restlessness can also extend into our meals. It often starts as not knowing what to cook and suddenly finding that you’re a much more “picky” eater than you were at the beginning of the year.
Take school lunch for example, when the school year starts there are lunch box Instagrams filled with beautiful creations and online forums dedicated to creating exquisite and yummy lunches. It’s easy to pack lunch when it’s fun and exciting to experiment with sending different foods, using different sandwich molds, and writing cute notes. However, at about this time of year, there are more and more posts with people expressing concerns that they’re running out of ideas and suddenly their kids don’t like to eat anything anymore. Dealing with picky eating is hard, but it can be even harder at this time of year when you’re thinking about what your child will eat at the holiday gatherings and may already be feeling less motivated to be your usual, gourmet-chef self.
Whether you’re looking for ways to deal with the lunch blues or just dealing with a picky eater in general, here are some ideas to help your kids eat more.
Don’t give up
When you have a reluctant eater it is frustrating to keep feeding them food and having them refuse it. Cooking takes time and energy. When your child makes a face and pushes the food aside, it can feel heartbreaking and who wants to keep dealing with that? However, research has shown that most kids need to be introduced to a new food between 12 and 30 times before they will accept it. That’s a lot of time for potential rejection, but it’s important to keep trying. Just because they don’t like it today doesn’t mean they won’t maybe like it tomorrow.
Remain food neutral
Food neutrality is the practice of not assigning moralistic thinking to food. There is no good or bad food, just food with different nutritional benefits for our bodies. This type of thinking is the best approach to dealing with picky eaters because it allows them to have a positive relationship with food and their bodies in a society where diet culture and disordered eating run rampant. Instead of placing foods on a hierarchy that instills guilt, shame, and obsession, try to remain neutral as you teach your kids about nutrition and the reasons for eating certain foods.
Involve your kids
One way to expose your children to more food and help them develop healthy eating habits is to allow them to help with food preparation. We often say that our kids are too young to help, but once a child can stand independently and has some manual dexterity they can help in the kitchen. Be mindful to keep them away from hazards like the stove/oven and sharp utensils, but let them help with tasks such as peeling, sorting, mixing, kneading, or smashing things. The more involved they are in cooking the more likely they are to try the food.
Consider Professional help
Most children experience a picky eating stage from about ages 2-5, if your child continues to be a picky eater past that age or their eating habits cause distress and don’t seem healthy, consider getting professional help. The first step is to speak with a pediatrician about how/what your child eats and their growth. Depending on how extreme the picky eating is your doctor might recommend feeding therapy or seeing a child nutritionist for further help in building a healthy diet for your child.
Get educated and communicate
Remember that when it comes to your child eating there are adult responsibilities and child responsibilities. Parents and caregivers decide what, where, and when food is provided; while the child should be free to decide whether or not to eat as well as how much to eat. Take time to get educated on the best foods to serve for your child’s dietary needs, the best times, the best manner in which to serve the food, and how to make eating pleasant. Communicate, with apps like Childwatch, any special dietary needs, or eating observations so that the adults can work together to build a nutritious diet.
At the end of the day, we all have our own eating preferences. Some people are down to try almost anything while others have a carefully refined palate that they’d rather not stray from. Wherever you fall on the spectrum is okay as long as you are eating enough to supply your body with the nutrients and energy it needs, and the same goes for our kids. The controversial Pumpkin Spice flavoring of October and November is a great example. Some people hate it and some people love it and that’s okay, there are some foods your child will most likely never enjoy and that’s okay as long as they are getting what they need to continue growing healthy and strong.