5 Mealtime Mistakes You’re Making with Your Picky Eater AND what to do instead
This is a guest blog from fellow Registered Dietitian Leslie Schmille over at www.raisingdaringeaters.com
Are mealtimes a constant battle in your household? It might look like a fight to get your child to sit at the table or a power struggle to get your child to eat the food you provide, bribing them with a cookie to take one more bite of broccoli. Does any of these fights over food sound familiar?!
We all have the best intentions when feeding our children, but some feeding practices might backfire and make mealtimes more challenging. Keep reading to find out 5 common mealtime mistakes parents make that may actually make picky eating worse and what to do instead.
MEALTIME MISTAKE WITH PICKY EATERS #1: NO MEALTIME SCHEDULE AND ROUTINE
Like adults, children feel more confident and secure when their daily activities are predictable and familiar. Research shows children with regular routines have better self-regulation skills which can help create healthy eating habits.
A mealtime schedule and routine can help your child listen to their hunger and fullness cues. If your child is grazing all day, they may never really have a tummy that feels hungry. This is one of the common reasons why picky eaters don’t eat at dinner time! Alternatively, if food is available sporadically, your child might overeat because they are hungry or not sure when food will be available again.
A mealtime schedule can also help your child feel more secure around food because they know when to expect their next meal. Furthermore, it can also help you to set boundaries around food.
What you should do instead → Create a mealtime schedule & routine
Have set times and locations for meals served as well as snack times. For example, have breakfast every morning at 7:30 am at the kitchen table.
When children ask for food outside of this time, you can simply say the kitchen is closed and state when the next meal will occur. This sets boundaries around mealtimes and helps your child have an appetite for the next meal.
MEALTIME MISTAKE #2: NOT SERVING A “SAFE FOOD” AT EACH MEAL
It is important to introduce new foods, but all unfamiliar foods at a meal can feel scary for your child. Similarly, only serving preferred food limits exposing your child to new foods, limiting the number of liked foods. It also increases the chances your child gets burnt out on the liked food if it is always served.
What you should do instead → Serve a liked food at each meal
Make sure to include at least one food item you know your child likes at each meal. This can not only help with acceptance of unfamiliar foods, but it also helps to ensure your child will eat something which can help relieve pressure and lead to less worry.
MEALTIME MISTAKE #3: PRE-PLATING YOUR CHILD’S MEALS
Experiencing autonomy is a critical part of learning for your child. It helps them build confidence and feel capable of making their own healthy choices. Pre-plating your child’s meals takes away their independence. It doesn’t allow them to decide which foods to eat and how much of those foods to eat which can lead to conflict at mealtime.
What you should do instead → Serve meals family-style
Family-style is a way of serving meals that allows each person at the table to decide which foods to eat and how much of those foods to eat. A taco or pasta bar is a great way to start!
Food is placed in common serving bowls at the dinner table, and each person serves themselves. You might need to assist your child if self-serving is new to them.
MEALTIME MISTAKE #4: NOT TRUSTING YOUR CHILD’S NATURAL HUNGER CUES
We are all born with natural hunger and fullness cues, but we tend to ignore them as we age. When you don’t trust that your child can self-regulate their food intake and recognize when they are hungry and full, it can potentially lead to weight problems later in life and an unhealthy relationship with food.
What you should do instead → Follow the Division of Responsibility
The Division of Responsibility in Feeding is a term coined by feeding expert Ellyn Satter. It states the parent is responsible for providing the food, and the child is responsible for deciding how much of the food to eat or whether to eat at all.
It takes trusting your child will eat what their body needs. High trust in your child can lead to relaxed, positive feeding interactions. This will lead to more adventurous eaters and can hugely impact your child’s relationship with food for life.
MEALTIME MISTAKE #5: USING COERCIVE FEEDING PRACTICES
Pressuring, bribing, and catering to your children are all examples of coercive feeding practices. Whether it’s bribing your child with dessert if they finish their vegetables, forcing them to take 3-bites before leaving the table or making them a “backup meal,” these are all common feeding mistakes.
Parents often resort to these tactics from worry and anxiety that their child is not eating enough “healthy foods.” Or they aren’t eating enough food (or too much!).
Using these practices might work in the short term but could potentially lead to your child developing negative associations with food which could worsen picky eating.
What you should do instead → Take the pressure off mealtime
It really comes back to trusting your child knows their body best! Release the control, set the boundaries, and provide the structure to set yourself and your child up for success!
Feeding your child doesn’t have to be challenging. Providing your child structure and predictability around food can help establish security. Additionally, releasing control and trusting your child to nourish their body appropriately will pave the way for a more relaxed, stress-free mealtime. Start with these tips and see how the feeding environment in your home changes!
For more tips and information on feeding your child, check out Leslie’s Instagram page @raisingdaringeaters.