Appropriate sleep, especially in the early stages, is influenced greatly by nutrition. For parents of toddlers, there can be nothing more frustrating than preparing a meal and placing it in front of your child, only to hear “Yuck! I’m not eating that”. A picky eater can quickly turn a happy mealtime into a power struggle, and often the parent loses. So before you add short-order cook to your parenting resume, try these tips:
- Eat with your child. Try to eat with your children as much as possible so that they can watch your modelling of how to interact with different foods. By the time a 6 month old is ready to have solid foods, they have probably watched their mother eat at least 600 times.
- Let your child be messy. Especially for infants. A great rule for those new to eating (6 months and beyond) is that once you give them food, you do not take it back. This involves cleaning faces and hands during meal times or scraping a face with a spoon in order to retrieve food that has spilled out of the mouth. For the little ones that are very sensitive, this can be quite alarming and may cause them to be quite defensive orally. There really is no mess that a bath cannot fix.
- Offer a choice between two items. This can be as simple as asking if a child wants pasta with sauce on top or on the side for dipping. Or let a child choose between two possibilities for lunch. But keep it within your limits as a parent.
- Involve children as much as possible in the kitchen. Baking is a great time to include children in the kitchen, as long as you grade activities to their abilities. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, let them pour ingredients into the bowl after you have measured them out. Take turns stirring the dough. Let your children help set the table. If you are worried about plates being broken, make that your job and get your children to place utensils, napkins and cups for everyone.
- Allow dips. There is something to be said about the power of a dip. Vegetables are eaten. Eggs are devoured. You can be creative with dips. Like above, penne noodles can be dipped in sauce. Turkey can be dipped in gravy. Fruit can be dipped in yogurt. You can also give another ‘choice’ by asking if they want sauces put ‘on the side’.
- Make food fun. Sometimes food just has to be fun. And it should be. Meal times are a time when family units can come together and discuss their days. So show your children that meal times can be fun. Have “Green Food Friday”, when all the food at the table is as green as possible. Or have breakfast food for dinner.
- Present food in new and different ways. Take cheese. Cheese is a food that can be cubed, grated, melted, presented in sticks, sliced or even cut into a fun shape with a cookie cutter. Sandwiches can be cut into fun shapes as well using a cookie cutter. Let your child pick which cookie cutter to use, and help them to cut it if they have not yet developed that skill.
Remember that some children need a food presented to them at least ten times before they will feel comfortable enough to eat it. If your child is extremely picky, remember that force-feeding will never solve the problem, but will only make it worse. If you have concerns regarding your child’s eating habits, talk to your family doctor about your concerns. You may need the help of an occupational therapist to help you make mealtimes a positive experience in your house.