Feeding a picky eater? This can be a tricky situation at best and a complete meal time meltdown at worst. When your child refuses to eat vegetables or wants the same food for every meal, it is tough to handle after spending time preparing a beautiful dish. But did you know well-intended responses that come from a place of love (and frustration) can fuel fussy eating?
Our in-house Dietitians from The Lifestyle Dietitian are stepping in to help out. Here are their five common mistakes to avoid next time your child refuses to eat.
- Food Bribes
Phrases like “you can have a cookie if you finish your carrot” are food bribes. These send the message that eating nutritious food is a chore and drive your child to want the cookie even more. They may also teach your child that certain foods need to be earned. This worsens picky eating and can lead to a poor relationship with food in future.
- Making an alternative
Do you always bring out a favourite alternative when your child refuses to eat? Yes, giving in feels easiest during the moment. But long term? It quickly teaches your child that refusal will get them what they want. This sets the stage for ongoing food refusal.
Food pressure sounds like “just take one more bite” or “a good girl would eat her dinner after Mummy worked so hard to cook it”. At its core, food pressure comes from a place of love and worry. Unfortunately, it often backfires. Pressuring your child to eat is stressful for both of you. Stress hormones like cortisol then quickly rise in your child’s body. These hormones reduce appetite which makes picky eating worse!
- Not serving new foods
Introducing new foods might seem useless if your child often refuses to eat. But if your child isn’t exposed to new foods, they won’t have the opportunity to explore them. It takes up to ten to 15 exposures before your child may even consider putting a new food near their mouth. Being comfortable around new foods only happens when these foods are present at meal times.
- Not considering underlying root causes
Certain health conditions can lead to food refusal. Iron deficiency, chewing or swallowing difficulties, allergies and constipation can all contribute to picky eating. Identifying these conditions with your Doctor and Dietitian can help manage your child’s picky eating.
So, as you navigate the joys of parenting a picky eater, remember to keep these five mistakes in mind when your child refuses food. From ditching food bribes to being firm and not bringing out alternative foods, feel confident that avoiding these five mistakes will help manage picky eating in the long run.