Q&A: Help! My 3-year-old is a very picky eater. How do I convince her to try new foods?
Are you struggling with picky eating? Do you want your child to be an adventurous eater, to be brave enough to try anything? Power struggles over food never end well. So how can we stop the power struggle, teach mealtime manners, and find solutions that are mutually respectful for adults and children?
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Hi, welcome back to our Sproutable Q&A. This week we have a question about picky eaters. Kids are picky eaters we know this. Most children are. You are not alone.
Thank you so much for writing in about this. I think it's pretty amazing that kids have this built in to the way that they are wired to be picky eaters. We know just from way back in evolution they needed to be picky eaters because they didn't want to eat the wrong berry that was poisonous or the wrong leaf or the wrong whatever it is that they were foraging for so they have really sensitive systems around food -their whole senses.
And as parents and caregivers of this age we also want our kids to be adventurous eaters we are in this a little bit of this conundrum right? So when you find yourself in a power struggle over food I want you to back off.
Okay this is really important the relationship that everybody has with food is complicated and so when their association is feeling forced to eat they are going to remember that feeling. So instead I want you to back off. Give them the choices and know that you have this next opportunity the next time to try again.
Ellen Satter has a great website and her philosophy is about the division of responsibility. She says that parents or caregivers are in charge of what and when and that children are in charge of how much and whether.
This is where you get to personalize what this means for your family. For my family, because on this ultimate life skills goal that I have around teaching them, I want them to be adventurous eaters because I want them to be big travelers.
I want them to be able to go out and try anything and in that way be brave enough be courageous enough to try anything you know. For me, it's really important that they try as much as possible at home. So therefore, in our house the rule is that you take a no thank you bite. Call it whatever you want.
For my kids they can do that. Other kids can't . They might need to just smell it and that's enough. They might need to just tolerate on their plate and that's enough. So recognize that everybody is going to be have a different sensory level as well and decide what makes sense for you
and what feels mutually respectful for you and for the child. That's first of all. The other piece that I that makes it personal for me - and again this is about making it personal for you - is that the piece around how much and whether. So again, for me it's really important that my kids at least just try it and then have the manners to move on.
To say, "wow thank you for making this for me. I think I prefer cereal instead tonight."
Really think about just the culture and the behavior and teach around that. We had to really be explicit and do a lot of practicing around saying,
"wow this looks interesting. Thank you mama for making this meal and I prefer something else."
So pay attention to that as well I would start there versus wanting them to eat food necessarily. You know what I mean? So really think about what is the part that's coming up for you.
We always have the same thing. That if they are not going to eat that dinner then they always have the same thing that they can go get themselves. Even my three-year-old she can go get her own bowl and her own little bag of cereal and she gets the stool and she gets into the refrigerator and gets out the almond milk and brings it all to the table.
It's important to share with them why. When they say, "oh this is so gross."
You can say, "wow well did you know that it can take up to 20, 40, 60 times for you to try something before your system says oh I like this."
So just empowering them with that information and letting them know that they actually have this superpower of smelling something really intensely or having a really strong reaction to what they're tasting and I think it's with that in mind that it's going to take them many times to try it. That can give them their motivation to try it for the next time.
The other piece that I bring into it is some autonomy. I also have my kids feel like they have contribution over what the meal is maybe this means that they are saying what vegetable they want. I might be giving them that choice tonight. "Should we do a salad or should we do brussels sprouts or should we do both?"
Part of the teaching as a caregiver as a parent is for them to listen to their own body to have awareness. Am I hungry or am I full?
If they're saying they're full and you're saying no just eat a little bit more eat a little bit more -that can be really confusing for kids and also send the message later that other people will tell you how to feel that you can't trust yourself.
Instead really hold them in that space. I have to do this with my middle all the time, "really are you sure you're done? did you have enough rainbow colors on your plate?"
I might make a little bit fun like by making the carrot sticks into a little character and say oh have you eaten the ears on the on the bunny rabbit yet? Bring their awareness back to themselves have them have that reflection, "Am I hungry? It's going to be a long time until dinner." So that they can start to be aware of their own body and
Then also remembering that kids grow at different rates they go up and then they go flat and they go up and they go flat. They might be in a phase where they are eating all the time all the time all the time and then not so much. And again, as long as they are just evening out on that growth curve and there's no concerns on that side then trust they will get what they need.
Just think about it and really personalize it for yourself. I love this. You know the Italian mom in me. I show my love with food and so I know it's really complicated and just continue to follow what feels right for you. What feels right for your family.
Thank you so much for writing in and we really appreciate your question we'll see you next time.