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As a parent, enforcing strict rules on what your child can and cannot eat may cause them to become a picky eater. Implementing strict rules in regards to a baby’s diet will only make things worse. Picky eating behaviors are often passed down from the parents to the child. As a parent, it’s important to encourage good eating habits, as these behaviors will be affecting dietary habits as the child grows older. Introducing your child to new foods early on with different tastes/textures may help avoid some developing picky eating habits. Making a habit of eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and proteins at a young age will most likely carry through their adult lives.
It should be noted that picky eating habits may emerge due to some behavioral distress from the baby, as some babies tend to use picky eating as an excuse for some bigger emotional problems. Picky eating may be a sign your baby is experiencing difficulty controlling their emotions. If picky eating and out-of-control emotions are both seen in your baby, a doctor’s advice is suggested.
Most often, picky eating stems from anxiety, mistrust, or some other distressed behavior when it comes to food. A gentle smile and reassurance from a loved one might just be enough to overcome the fear of a new/different food.
Here are some tips to help your child avoid picky eating habits:
The more rules and regulations that are implemented around meal times add additional stress on the kids. Family meals should be lighthearted and exciting, a pressure-free environment will encourage children to go out of their dietary comfort zones. Try not to force kids to finish everything on their plate, it's okay for them to get full! Force-feeding will form negative emotions towards food, making meals more difficult in the future.
In the moment, it might just be easier to give your child a cookie as a reward for finishing their vegetables. However, in the long run, this will cause many more problems when it comes to eating a full, balanced meal. Using food as a bribe sets the expectation for a reward after every food-related obstacle. When dessert isn’t rewarded after finishing some leafy greens, this may cause some confusing emotions for the kid. Don’t allow an expectation for treats to persuade your kid into eating a full meal, let them eat on their own!
Allowing kids to try new things is super important for expanding their paletes! Let them take control of their own food: less restrictions means less anxiety for the child when trying new things. CNN Health states that, “It is critical that caregivers let go of their need for a child to taste something and instead focus on accumulating pleasant experiences”. Let's try to make meals a comfortable and enjoyable time for family bonding, a stress-free environment is the key to easy eating for kids.
Stephanie Meyers, MS, RDN, author of End the Mealtime Meltdown, offers parents a new approach to deal with finicky eating behaviors. She says challenging dynamics over food aren’t anyone’s fault, but there’s something caregivers can change that really helps - and it’s right on the tip of your tongue!
Meyers focuses on what you say to your kids about eating while they’re eating (something she calls “table talk”), and teaches you what to say instead of these “usual things:"
“Take two more bites if you want dessert”
“You liked this last time”
“That’s enough pasta, you need to eat some veggies too”
Her book helps you understand and transform what you say, providing simple scripts that make tough moments over food less frustrating for everyone. When you know what to say you end up with less stress and guilt and your child gets a better chance to practice specific skills related to eating well.