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The Return of Family Mealtime and How to Help Your Picky Eater

The Return of Family Mealtime and How to Help Your Picky Eater

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One bright spot during the COVID-19 pandemic has been our nightly family dinners (although my kids may not agree!). As my children have grown older, we have become accustomed to our evenings being spent in the car running them from one activity to the next. Several times, I have wondered, “What is all this for?” Our family time during the week kept diminishing due to business trips, longer work hours (and not being able to close my computer at night!), carpools for sports, and after-school activities. Where did our quality family time go? It seemed that our family mealtimes had disappeared. We all get caught up in the daily rat race but the current pandemic has forced us to slow down albeit abruptly. While many aspects of the pandemic have been difficult, being able to sit at the dinner table with my husband and our children has been such a gift and has provided all of us time for reflection. 

While today family dinners are spent discussing current events, trying to problem solve societal issues, and talking about e-learning assignments, I remember days when my children were younger when some family dinners turned into power struggles about what they would or wouldn’t eat. While I tried to give them choices, I wanted them to eat all of the healthy foods on their plates even if they didn’t like the taste or texture of them. Even today, they sometimes choose to eat around their vegetables (or at least one of them in particular!). For those parents of picky eaters, you know what that is like! We wanted to highlight some tips for how to get your children eating a variety of foods and how to get them excited (instead of stressed) about mealtime:

Take the focus off the picky eater. Often, kids with food aversions become stressed by focus and attention during mealtimes. Family dinners provide the opportunity to share the focus (much to the relief of our picky eaters). A recent study indicated that the more prompts caregivers gave their child (i.e. eat your vegetables) the less they ate. 

Involve your child in the prep work. Picky eaters are more likely to accept new foods if they are able to explore and learn about it in a non-threatening, fun way. Comment on the shape, smell, colors and texture of the foods while cooking. Talk about where foods originated and how they got to your kitchen.

Presentation and portion sizes are very important in creating an enjoyable environment for kids with food aversions. The TherapyWorks feeding team loves Sage Spoonfuls’: Sili Elephant plate and their Happy Foodie Stainless Steel Divided Plate. The separate compartments allow us to manage portion sizes as well as keeping foods separate from one another; very important for our picky eaters! And the suction on the bottom of the plate will keep your child from throwing it on the floor, which hopefully will help minimize the clean up! 

Piggy back on foods your child likes. Children are more willing to eat foods they like; see if you can build on the foods in their repertoire. Identity the similarities between the foods your child will eat (texture, shape, taste, color). If your child likes chicken nuggets (a favorite of our picky eaters) try presenting a slightly different shape or a new brand. If your child likes yogurt, try presenting them with a new flavor that is the same color and texture as the one they like. Slowly introducing subtle changes to build on accepted foods is an effective strategy. Research tells us that it may take up to 10 presentations of a new food before a child begins to eat it regularly. Be persistent with the presentation of new foods, even if your child doesn’t accept it the first few times. 

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s feeding habits, reach out to us! Schedule a free phone consultation or click the link below to complete a short questionnaire about your child. 

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