Cooking for picky eaters can be a challenge for any parent or caregiver. A child who refuses food or entire meals can be frustrating and worrisome to the adult, but what can be done? The truth is that a picky eater is often a product of their environment. Children emulate the behaviour of those around them, or play upon the sympathies of a tired parent at the end of their rope. A picky child has become accustomed to getting what they would like to eat, not what they should. How can this behaviour be reversed? Try changing the behaviour with the following tips.
One Meal Fits All
Unless there are dietary restrictions that require alterations to one family member's meal, everyone should get the same meal. A home is not a restaurant, so the cook should not be taking orders. If chicken is on the menu for the evening meal, Sally does not get a hamburger. Make this a solid rule, and stick with it steadfastly to teach the picky eater that meals are no longer at their command.
A child who refuses vegetables of fresh food is not getting the vitamins and minerals they should. Sometimes it is easier to hide the vegetables than struggle with the child to coax them into eating it. Mixing a shredded vegetable like carrots into ground meat for meatloaf or hamburgers is one way to incorporate a vegetable into a meal surreptitiously. Another way to camouflage food is to create something fun with it. Use separate components of meals to shape or build animals, words, or landscapes. It doesn't need to be elaborate, just fun and playful.
Differentiate the Method of Cooking
Texture can sometimes be the culprit when in comes to a picky eater. A child won't eat anything that is mushy if they don't like how it feels. Try shortening cook times, finding other methods to cook certain foods, or allowing the child to eat a vegetable raw instead of cooked if possible.
Discourage Snacking and Junk Food
A child may not eat simply because they are already full of snacks. Snacking between meals ruins appetites, especially when those snacks are high in calories. Do not purchase junk food for snacks. Instead, keep healthy options available, but don't allow eating too soon before a meal.
Ask For Help
Children love to help cook, and are more likely to eat food they have help prepare. Encourage the picky eater to help with meals, and allow them to make some choices about the food. Let the child pick what goes into the salad, or which side dish they would like with the chicken. A child who feels they have a say will feel more in control of what they choose to eat.
Set a Good Example
A parent refusing to eat vegetables, or fish, or anything healthy is displaying bad behaviour for a child. Often, that child will become a picky eater as well. Always eat what has been cooked for a meal to demonstrate good eating habits for children. If there is something an adult will absolutely not eat, avoid preparing it for meals. Children learn first from the adults in their lives, and an adult who eats what they are given sends an important message to a child.
Vary the Menu
Try not to allow the menu to become predictable. Avoid having the same meals each week, or the picky eat may become bored and start the pattern of eating difficulty over again. On the flip side, the picky eater may also become accustomed to the routine, and refuse to try new foods when they are introduced.