- Do you end up preparing three meals every night, and tire of being a short-order cook?
- Are there endless negotiations over food, and battles that have exhausted you?
- Do you worry about health concerns because your picky eater is so stubborn, and only eats junk?
If so, then you likely know that you share this struggle with millions of parents. And yet, the situation is almost always easily resolved…with clear guidance and a firm commitment to build healthy patterns of eating. As a Licensed Psychologist, I have witnessed the most stubborn of picky eaters surrender their habits in just a matter of days.
However, because you are changing a pattern of behavior…the change is not always easy. Many times you will have to overcome your own personal struggles with false ideas…such as, “I can’t let them go to bed hungry.” Well…yes you can. IF…you realize that they are choosing to go to bed hungry after you offered them wonderful, yummy food. They have to learn from their choices.
If you decide that you will feed them junk food, in response to their refusal to eat healthy food…you set up a pattern where their resistance is actually “fed” and rewarded by you giving in…and letting them eat junk food. This is a recipe for disaster…no pun intended.
Anyway, here’s my quick-start version of what you must do to start getting a handle on your picky eater.
Quick Start Guide For Helping Your Picky Eater
Adjust your mindset. To expand the foods your child eats, it is essential to let go of the idea that you can (or should) force or demand your kids to eat healthy food. Please notice my choice of words carefully, as we must drop the idea of “demanding” our children to eat.
This is not to say that you relinquish the goal of healthy eating. We do not. It simply acknowledges that forcing or demanding your children to eat healthier will not work.
Start by assertively cleaning out your pantry. Get rid of all the junk food, sodas, potato chips, ice cream, candy bars, etc. Simply do not have these foods in your house as an option, and instead substitute healthy alternatives…such as an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
Many folks want to make these changes slow and easy. My suggestion is to take the opposite approach. If it’s junk food…it’s JUNK. So throw it away. You don’t need to read another article or take another week to talk about it.
For some, you can be methodical and consistent…and you can take out food a week. But for most, that’s just not reality. One food gets deleted from the pantry, and within a month, another one or two substitutes find their way back ‘home.’
Announce: “I’m no longer the short-order cook.”
Now…you must walk your talk. Prepare healthy meals with a variety of foods. After you prepare a meal, let the kids know that this is the meal for the evening. There will be no additions or changes, depending on the preferences of anyone in the family.
Yes, I know that sounds radical for many of you who believe your children won’t eat the good stuff you prepare for everyone, but it’s just not true.
They will indeed continue to demand that you be their on-demand chef…as long as you are willing to do it.
If children complain or resist eating healthy food, use this very simple formula for communicating with them:
“You have a choice. Eat what’s here…and you will feel good. Or…don’t eat, complain, pick at your food and you will feel hungry. You choose.” Now…just leave them to decide.
If any of your children refuse to eat, simply do not resist or battle with them. Don’t argue with them, and don’t allow them to get alternative food. Just stick to your guns about the food that is available, and that they are free to walk away hungry.
If children complain and pick at their food, do not talk to them during these times WHILE they are complaining. Instead, engage with someone else at the table, simply ignoring their complaints and criticisms of the food. When your child begins to talk without complaint or begins eating, engage and talk to them freely.
Don’t worry if they go to bed hungry for a few nights. All will be okay. They will readily survive an occasional night here and there without an evening meal.
Instead, you must trust that the natural learning processes of nature will begin to take hold in the days ahead. When your children learn that there will be no fights over food and that no other options are available after a meal, the hunger that they experience eventually becomes a powerful teacher and instructor. They will learn to eat what is offered MOST of the time. Simply don’t sweat the other times, as they will grow fewer and farther apart.
As a reminder, the guidelines outlined in this article will eliminate and reduce symptoms of picky eating. If your son or daughter is exhibiting more serious symptoms consistent with a possible eating disorder, you must obtain a professional evaluation and possible intervention.