Have you heard the saying ‘You’re only as happy as your saddest child’? It’s not the most uplifting phrase but it may hold a lot of truth. If your child is struggling with behavioural and mental health challenges, you are likely in the struggle too. For kids, these struggles can be encountered at all ages…
Healthy eating for busy families can be a struggle sometimes, and it’s never too late to start having healthier and more enjoyable habits, even if you have a picky eater in the mix. From slowing down for mealtimes, to learning together in the kitchen, and trying new recipes and flavours, healthy eating can be fun for the whole family. Dietitians of Canada are encouraging Canadians to consider not only what they eat, but how they eat too.
When dealing with a picky eater, the parent and/or caregiver’s job is to decide:
- What food and drinks are served at meals and snacks. Make only one family meal. Do not offer your child other options or their favourite foods if he refuses the family meal. Plan healthy balanced meals including a mix of healthy ingredients.
- When food is served. Offer meals and snacks at the same time every day. Your child will learn when to expect food to be served and it will help them to come to the table feeling hungry. Your child is more likely to try new foods when they are hungry at mealtime.
- Where food is served. Children eat better when the family eats at the table together.
- If you need help, Dietitians are regulated health professionals who help Canadians understand the science and nutrition without fads or gimmicks. Seek one out to help your family navigate the nutrition journey.
The child’s job is to decide:
- If they are going to eat. Your children will eat if they are hungry. Don’t worry – your child won’t starve themselves! If they’re hungry they will eat even if their favourite foods are not in front of them.
- How much they are going to eat. Trust that your child knows when they are hungry or full.
Top tips for picky eaters
- Plan family mealtime.
Eat meals at the table as a family. Do not offer food while your child is playing, watching television, or walking around.
- Be a role model.
Your child will eat better and be more willing to try new foods if they see others at the table eating the same foods. Family members, including older brothers and sisters, are important role models for healthy eating.
- Eat at regular times.
Offer three meals and up to three snacks at regular times each day. Offer only water between meals and snacks. This will keep your child hydrated and will also make sure that they don’t fill up before mealtime. This way they will come to the table hungry.
What if my child won’t eat? If your child refuses to eat at snack or mealtime, offer food only at the next scheduled time. Stick to this rule even when your child refuses dinner and has to wait until breakfast. If children eat less at one meal, they will make up for it and eat more at the next meal.
- Promote happy mealtimes.
Your child will eat better if they are enjoying mealtime. Children are more likely to have a happy mealtime if you don’t pressure them to eat.
- Avoid distractions.
Meals and snacks should be served away from distractions like the television or computer. Mealtime is for eating and interacting with the family. Do not have toys at the table or on your children’s tray. Leave toys, books, television, and music for playtime before or after meals.
- Prepare one meal for the family.
Make sure you offer food in the correct texture and size of pieces for your children. Remember it is the parent or caregiver’s job to offer the food and it is your children’s decision whether they will eat or not. Your children will be more willing to try new foods if they know they will not get their favourite foods when they refuses dinner.
- Listen to your children.
Trust that your children know when they are hungry and full.
- Don’t pressure, praise, reward, trick or punish.
Children who want to be independent will not eat well if they feel pressure. Allow your children to decide if or how much they will eat from the foods offered. Trust that they will eat if they’re hungry.
- Try, try again.
Continue offering new foods even if your children have said no to them before. Offer these foods on different days, at different meals, and in different recipes. It can take as many as 10 times for a child to try a food and like it. Don’t give up!
- Limit mealtime.
Allow your children a maximum of 30 minutes to eat the meal. After this time put the food away and let your children leave the table. Offer food again at the next scheduled meal or snack time. Extending mealtime too long will not make your children more likely to eat and does not create a healthy and happy eating environment.
- Plan family mealtime.
If you are not the only one who prepares food for your children, make sure all caregivers follow the same tips to get the best results. This includes babysitters, siblings, and grandparents!
How to get kids excited about healthy eating
Cooking together can be a great way to get the family involved in healthy eating habits, and cooking with kids doesn’t have to take a lot of time and work. No matter their age, your kids will love getting creative in the kitchen; if kids get cooking from an early age, chances are they will continue this good habit as they grow older.
Learning together in the kitchen can also be a great way to pass down family cooking traditions. Keep your cultural roots alive by teaching your children some old family favourites. While in the kitchen, talk about who taught you to cook and your favourite traditional recipes.
Whether you have toddlers or teens, adventurous or picky eaters, healthy eating habits are about more than food. Spending quality time over meals is a great way to reconnect as a family at the end of a workday or a relaxing and productive way to have fun together on the weekend.
Dietitians are regulated health professionals who are passionate about the potential of food to enhance lives and improve health – and Dietitians of Canada (DC) is proud to be the leading voice of this vibrant, relevant and evolving profession. We represent a diverse and skilled community of thought leaders who are sought after for their expertise across all areas of food, nutrition and health.
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