Parents can utilize a variety of experts to combat picky eating and form a family plan. This week Jennifer Loebel, Institute for Integrative Nutrition Certified Health Coach and owner of Journey Coaching LLC, shared her expert advice with TippiTopper.
“My husband and I have dealt with out share of picky eating among our own children,” says the mom and stepmom of four boys. “And, I enjoy working with parents of picky eaters because many are uncomfortable speaking about their dinner table struggles at playgroup. I can use both my professional and personal experiences to help.”
We asked Jennifer, “What happens when you find yourself dreading meal time with your picky eater?” Here are her tips and strategy suggestions:
1) Bring your concerns to your child’s pediatrician. When you have concerns about your child’s health, growth or development, always involve his pediatrician or primary care doctor. Often, picky eating is a normal part of early childhood. Children are more sensitive to taste than adults, especially when it comes to bitter and sour flavors. In some cases, picky eating can indicate that there is another challenge a child is facing and with your pediatrician’s help this can be ruled out or if necessary you can be referred to other professionals for more help.
2) Get on the same page as your partner. Everyone was raised differently and it is very common for two parents to have differing views about how a child should behave at the dinner table. Things can get stressful fast when you may not agree with your spouse! It is critical that parents work together. Discuss what is acceptable to you at meal times. For example, if a child agrees to try a new food, but doesn’t like it, may he spit it in the trash? Will the focus be on manners, or food? Is there an alternative meal for picky eaters, or can a healthy bed time snack serve as a supplement later in the evening? Think carefully about what happens at meal times and try to come to an agreement with your partner about how each scenario will be handled. If you find that this is challenging, look for outside support.
3) Change the meal time mood. Remember that old phenomenon of “fight or flight?” If meal times have become stressful in your household, your child may be experiencing this stress response which can result in appetite suppression. No one wishes to have stressful meal times and most often parents’ struggles with picky eaters have stemmed from a simple, loving desire to nourish their children. Instead of feeling badly about the mood, work on changing it. Ditch the nagging and find ways to add fun to the menu. Some ideas for fun include moving the meal from the table to a special picnic space, to provide interesting condiments such as TippiTopper, to serve portions of food on fancy toothpicks with an array of dips, to make the presentation of whole, nutritious foods exciting, or even to invent funny stories about the food or names for familiar meals (our pickiest eater ate veggie-filled tuna pasta salad when we called it “confetti spaghetti”).
4) When making changes to a picky eater’s diet, be slow, steady and consistent. Many parents hope for a quick and simple solution to picky eating. I happily tell the tale of our pickiest eater enjoying “confetti spaghetti,” but we had made changes in our household for years before this victory. Change was slow and dependent on our consistent, small efforts. For example, we made very gradual changes from sweetened apple sauce in the lunch box, to unsweetened apple sauce, to the whole apple. Often changes to familiar and favorite foods have to be very slow and gradual, for example adding in a small amount of new whole wheat pasta to a favorite white flour pasta, making a sandwich with one slice of white bread and one slice of light wheat, or mixing a scoop of plain yogurt in with a familiar sweetened variety.
5) Be the change you wish to see. Many years ago we began to ask our kids to eat more fruits and veggies. We would report to each other at the end of each day with our fruit and veggie count. I began to realize that perhaps our boys were eating more fruits and vegetables than I was. What an eye opener! I knew that I had to model the behavior I wanted to see in our children and that doing so would benefit my health as well. I truly thought that I was eating plenty of healthy things, but then again I had not had a fruit and veggie count at the end of each day before! Any expert will tell you, if you do not eat vegetables, neither will your children. Get excited about finding healthy, whole foods you enjoy and share that enthusiasm with your kids.
To learn more about Jennifer, her practice and upcoming workshops visit http://jennifer-loebel.healthcoach.integrativenutrition.com.