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Newsletter: October 2018

Don’t Be Scared of Picky Eating

Over the years, we’ve talked to thousands of families about their biggest family dinner challenges. While no two families are exactly alike, some common themes have emerged, and one of the top five challenges that adds stress to the dinner table is definitely picky eating.

“All they want to eat is pizza, mac and cheese or grilled cheese,” laments one parent, while another adds “The picky eating is a constant challenge.” Trying to figure out how to please all the palates in the household can lead to extra work in planning, shopping and cooking, tension at the table as parents try to encourage kids to try new foods, or even a total breakdown of the family dinner experience. Some parents we’ve met have abandoned trying to gather everyone for a meal altogether, so exhausted and frustrated by picky eating habits that they let everyone eat what they want, when they want it.

It’s understandable that picky eating can scare families away from the table. Few things are as frustrating for parents as putting effort and energy into cooking a nutritious meal, only to have family members turn up their noses. And a recent study found that when parents try to coerce kids to eat what they’re served despite individual preferences, the resulting tension can actually damage the parent-child relationship. But that doesn’t have to mean resigning yourselves to serving up an endless parade of chicken nuggets, or avoiding family dinners altogether to keep the conflict at bay.

Here are our top tips for keeping conflict off the menu, and getting a wider variety of foods onto it, while dealing with picky eating:

  1. Rule out underlying issues. In rare cases, what parents think of as “picky eating” can actually signal a more serious concern. If your child’s diet is extremely restrictive, they’re not gaining weight at an appropriate rate or they appear to have unusually heightened emotional and physical reactions to foods, it’s a good idea to consult with your family doctor.
  2. Ignore what they eat. Think about it: How comfortable would you be eating with someone looking over your shoulder, constantly commenting on how much you’d eaten, what you were and weren’t eating, and what they wanted you to eat next? While it’s tempting to comment on kids’ eating habits and try to encourage them to try everything on the plate, your well-intentioned enthusiasm can feel very much like pressure to a child who’s reluctant to eat. Instead, focus the conversation on non-food topics and try to lighten up so the table is a fun and enjoyable place to be.
  3. Be a good role model. Make a habit of serving a wide variety of healthy foods, and showing kids how you eat and enjoy those foods yourselves. It’s hard to cajole a six-year-old into eating peas if you don’t ever put them on your own plate. Over time, most kids will start to branch out into trying new items as they become familiar with seeing them as a normal part of your family’s diet.
  4. Serve preferred foods alongside new ones. Some families make sure that there’s at least one preferred food on the table every night, such as fruit, bread or noodles; some save favorites for occasions when they’re planning to introduce a new item and want to be sure that there’s something for tentative eaters to enjoy. Either way, the old “eat it or starve” method isn’t necessarily the best approach for every family when bringing a new food to the table. You’ll likely get less pushback from kids, and have a more peaceful dinnertime, if you round out the offerings on the table with a basket of bread or a plate of cheese and fruit so no one feels pressured to choose between eating a food they don’t want and leaving the table hungry.

For more in-depth advice on dealing with picky eating, see Taking a Leap: Helping Selective Eaters Try New Foods or That’s Disgusting! — Encouraging Picky Eaters.

Family of the Month

Meet the Khan family from the UK! Parents Emma and Zed share about their life with two selective young children, and how Sunday dinners have become a cornerstone of their family routine.

Real Family Dinner Projects: The Khan Family

Food

Parmesan crusted chicken tenders

Trying to slowly move your selective eaters away from boxed chicken nuggets? Our homemade version could be a step in the right direction!

Parmesan Crusted Chicken Tenders

Fun

Helping kids identify where their food comes from can make new foods seem less daunting. Play a round of “How Many Hands?” to help young diners connect with the foods you serve.

How Many Hands?

Conversation

Take the focus off the food and put it onto something fun with these conversation starters about “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

Talking About the Great Pumpkin

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