You want your kids to eat healthy. But some days you just want your kids to eat. Preparing meals and having them refused is discouraging. You may feel defeated some days. Here are some fresh ideas to try! But first, consider not EXPECTING kids to eat at all. Make it clear the food will be placed on the plate and is expected to stay there, but does NOT have to be eaten. Most disappointment comes from unmet expectations. So, with these suggestions in mind, approach mealtime with NO expectation your kid will eat a darn thing. (So freeing if you can get there!) Serve the meal, and try these phrases when the urge to coax or bargain with your kids strikes:
1. “Celery is really loud when you bite it!” Demonstrate, if you are serving celery, of course. Substitute with any crunchy food you have served.
2. “See if Fergie the Frog will try it!” Use of puppets is a winner in feeding therapy and takes pressure off of kids! We love these silicone ones you can throw in the dishwasher after the meal.
3. “This apple slice smells like candy!” Smell the apple and pop it in your mouth. Don’t “coax “ them to smell it or eat it though!
4. “You don’t have to eat it, but it needs to stay on your plate until mealtime is over.” Exposure is what we are going for. Exposure over time with no pressure wins them over eventually. If the kids don’t eat their food, have THEM do the task of scraping the uneaten food into the bin (more exposure) if they are old enough. If they can walk or roll to the trashcan carrying a plate, they are old enough! 20 minutes is adequate for a mealtime. Don’t over-stay at the table, hoping for more bites. Walk away. Avoid allowing post mealtime snacking, but don’t make it punitive. Just say: “We don’t eat between meals” or, “Maybe if we watch a movie we can make popcorn.” Don’t deny snacks as a direct consequence for not having eaten at meal time.
5. “I really love eating with you!” Demonstrate how much you are enjoying your food and their company.
If your child is otherwise healthy, has energy, bright eyes, shiny hair and healthy skin, don’t worry too much about the pickiness of their eating. They will sense that at the table, and this can trigger “fight or flight” anxiety, further reducing their appetite and, over time, damaging their long-term relationship with food. Use these strategies and “trust the process”. If your child is lethargic, constipated, under weight and eliminates more and more foods or entire food groups from their diet, see one of our occupational therapists. It could be Pediatric Feeding Disorder. PFD is treatable but it is better to start therapy early than to “wait and see”. The longer PFD goes on untreated, the more difficult it becomes to treat.