The Picky Eater…
Dinner time: Fight or Feast?
Mums, dads, parents of any kind, read on! Is your mealtime affected by that hard-to-deal-with phenomenon The Picky Eater? No fun, right? Debates, bribes, promises, anger…none of it works; in fact it makes things worse. You dread dinner time. So what to do? First of all, take a deep breath. You’re not alone. Simple changes that work, that’s what you can do. It will require some willpower on your end but the results will be so worth it, you’ll be glad you persevered.
Surprisingly, medical research shows that humans, including children, can go without food for around 17 days before real serious things start to happen. However, fluids is a different game; the human body doesn’t work well without liquids. Two or three days without a drink can be detrimental. Now this is where it gets tough…
Naturally, it’s within our human ‘nurturing’ instinct that you feel your kids should eat. Even if it’s only a bowl of cereal (instead of a proper dinner), you ‘need’ to know you’re not sending your offspring to bed feeling hungry. That’s where the Picky Eater is powerful, playing that emotion like a finely-tuned piano. Masterpieces of manipulation are the result.
Picky Eaters can be found anywhere. Their reasons are numerous. Sometimes kids will refuse certain food groups (grains, dairy) due to an underlying, undetected intolerance. In that case, that’s instinct. However, if your kid is fussy over all meals, let’s go for solutions. Put on your armour-plated parent suit, follow the steps and let the changes occur.
Step 1: Serve a dinner that is well-liked by everyone, but nothing too special. Serve the PE (Picky Eater) a bird portion of what you would normally serve. A few cubes of potato the size of dice, ten peas and a slice of carrot and a tablespoon of meat, fish or chicken; whatever is the go. If Spag Bol is a favourite, place a tiny spoon of pasta in the middle and use a teaspoon of sauce. Serve everyone. Watch your PE’s surprise as he/she looks at the plate. Don’t comment. Let them be.
They may refuse this small amount initially. Remove the plate when everyone is done. Still in your armoured suit? Good. If your PE throws a tantrum over why there is so little on his plate be logical: “You don’t seem to like full plates, so I thought I’d give you less”. Leave it at that and move on.
Most likely, around 30 minutes later, your PE will announce he/she is hungry. They’ll ask for a bowl of cereal, their favourite, sugar laden filler. Say NO. Instead, make a joke, say “Sorry, kitchen closed”, as well as distracting them with a story or a game or a cuddle. No anger, no emotions apart from mindful love for your little one who has to learn a new habit. Your decisions must be supported by all family members; if one gives in, the whole plan falls apart.
Be consistent. Repeat step 1 and 2 for every meal that causes problems until change takes place. Don’t give in to requests for nibbles in between meal times. Fill lunch boxes with mini portions too. An apple quart or one small biscuit instead of a whole apple and 3 biscuits is fine. Do give treats as per normal, but also in mini servings. This is not a punishment; this is a portion-adjusting time.
Usually, within a few days your PE will attack their mini meal. You’ll find that after that, they’ll start asking for a second serve. This is the Hurray moment! As a matter of fact, this is an empowering feeling for your child. No longer getting nagged, but instead smiling, asking for more. Fantastic! Dinner is no longer a hurdle but an achievement and a time that everyone can enjoy. And you’ve helped your child in developing a healthy approach to eating while building self-confidence. Well done!