When you’re the father of a picky eater, you know the worry and struggle is real. Did you know it doesn’t have to be this way? Read on!
Hey Dad, it’s mealtime. Are you ready?
If you’ve got a picky eater in the house, you’re probably groaning. I get it. I’ve been there. That inner voice is needling you…voices of relatives (usually in-laws) are rattling around in your head. They sound kind of like this:
“Well of course [your kid] won’t eat for him. He’s just not as good at feeding her as [your spouse].”
“Poor child. So skinny. Don’t they know how to feed him?”
Plates down, forks and knives at the ready, and your picky eater? Dancing circles around the table. Playing with the LeapPad. Reading a book. Taking a potty break, five times in a row…oddly, whenever you mention the word ‘vegetable.’
And you? Trying hard to keep your temper in check and your stress level under wraps.
Here’s how to replace your picky eater with a mini-foodie (YES, it is possible)…
First, A Few Reassuring Facts About Picky Eaters
- More than 46% of kids are picky eaters at some point in their lives.
- Picky eating usually resolves within three years.
- The majority of picky eaters meet expected growth curves, and don’t show any ill effects.
Getting Your Picky Eater to Love Food
- Make Food Fun. Kids are big on visual elements. Let your artistic side out, and play with their food. Surprise them with edible artwork. I’ve got to hand it to Beau, the Lunchbox Dad. My food creativity can’t compare. But his kids love it, and what can I say? Broccoli looks a lot more appetizing as Yertle the Turtle and crew.
- Keep it Colorful. Eating the rainbow is sound nutritional advice, no matter what your age. Most kids love bright colors, and you can use that to your advantage. If their food looks exciting (even if it’s no Yertle), you’re likely to get their interest.
- Cook with Your Kids. Sometimes, picky eaters just want more time with you, Dad. It’s not always easy to tell when that’s the case, but if you bring your tykes into the kitchen, you’ll do more than teach them a life skill. You’ll be whetting their appetites by making them curious about what they’re making, helping them feel important and special by giving them “big kid” things to do, and squeezing in a little extra quality time.
- Eat Family Meals at the Table, NOT the TV. Let me clarify: More QT, kids feel more loved and there’s plenty of sociological research that shows kids do much better in school and life when regular family meals are a part of daily life.
- When in Doubt, Puree. Karen Le Billon touches on the virtues of pureeing new foods in her book “French Kids Eat Everything,” which is where I first discovered this tip. It makes intuitive sense, too. If something looks intimidating and strange, you’re not likely to try it, are you? But when purees look like baby food and have a pleasant texture they’re not intimidating, no matter what color they are. From cream soups to fruit smoothies, kids love them. Give them a try.
- Don’t Label Your Kid. Ok, so this is huge in my book. If you tell your kids they’re picky eaters, they’ll grow into that label. Just don’t do it. It’s never going to do anything positive, but it will leave them feeling like they have to conform to that identity. Ouch.
- Take a Bite. Either try a new food in front of your child so they can see you eat it first, or just ask them to try one bite. No more, no less. It can take kids dozens of bites to decide if they love or hate a new flavor, but they don’t have to take them all at once.
When It’s More Than Just Picky Eating
Sometimes, picky eating is a bit more serious. The cause for worry is real, and your little one might be facing some serious challenges. Two conditions that are rare but worth mentioning are Failure to Thrive and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Speak with your pediatrician or family doctor if you have serious concerns about your kid’s eating habits.
What’s your experience with picky eating? Tell me about it here. We’re all parents, which means we’re all in this together. When our kid isn’t eating right, it can be a very stressful experience—my son’s pediatrician told me once that he knows when a child isn’t eating well because the parents look stressed out. Talking about it, writing about it and venting about it can be seriously cathartic. That’s the final tip, Dads: Don’t forget self-care. You’re right to fret about your little one, but don’t forget that your health matters, too. Kids look up to you, and copy what they see.
Edited Photo: Flickr/David Goehring