Food for Thought
Whenever I engage with parents, I often hear questions and concerns from them about the eating habits that their children are developing. These range from a wish that their child would eat more vegetables, to a concern that they won’t eat anything at all. Often the child I see in front of me is healthy and thriving, but food issues are incredibly stressful for parents and it can be really upsetting to sit with your child who is refusing food after food. A parents primitive drive is to keep their child alive and well, and sometimes it can seem as if the child’s main drive is to resist that as much as possible.
Adding to this is the fact that a family mealtime is so important for your child’s growth, development and self -esteem. Sharing food is a bonding and connecting activity, and eating together is an important family activity. During mealtimes you can share about your days, practice listening to the stories that are being shared, work on sitting together, and share a loving activity. Your child also learns so much through watching you eat. They are observing and building important brain pathways for healthy eating choices, socialization and communication.
So, how do you manage your toddler or preschool aged child’s finicky food choices? And how do you create meaningful mealtimes in spite of this frustration? I offer a few suggestions below.
Show, Don’t Tell
As with so many things in parenting, how you model healthy and engaged eating is so much more important than what you tell your children about how or what they should eat. Are you eating with your kids? Are they seeing you eat a variety of foods and enjoy food? Are you creating fun and engaged mealtimes?
The way food is presented in your home and family is so important for creating a lifelong healthy relationship with food. If you are simply telling your child what or how or when to eat, without engaging in the activity with them, it can become an exercise in control, rather than an opportunity to connect.
Offer Many Options
I grew up with the goal of being in the “clean plate club” after every meal. We now know that that kind of goal directed eating isn’t necessary, it’s actually more valuable to help your child to recognize their own fullness cues. In a parallel lane, it’s important to offer your children many choices of foods to eat, and then let them decide what they like and don’t like. In this way, you are showing respect to their autonomy and individuality. I do think it’s helpful to encourage your little one to try new things, even saying something like, “I’d like you to taste the (broccoli), because I’m curious if you might like it as much as I do!” It’s helpful if you introduce only one or two new things on a plate that has a few other things that you know your child likes. That way, the tasting can be a part of the meal, not an overwhelming goal of the meal.
Slow It Down
This is the callback to the healthy and thriving child I spoke about earlier. Food is incredibly evocative and there is a lot of emotion wrapped up in how we feed ourselves and how we feed those we love. Pay attention to your reaction to your little one’s eating habits and slow down. If you are anxious when feeding your child, your child is receiving that anxiety as a part of their food. If you can, create mealtimes that are fun and enjoyable and nurturing and realize that your healthy and thriving child will eventually pass through this phase and into another.
In researching this blog I found these two resources helpful. Enjoy and B’tei Avon!