Ask the Savvy Parent: Mealtimes are Wartimes

Image courtesy http://mommabird.net/

Image courtesy http://mommabird.net/

Dear Savvy Parent,

How do I get my 4-year-old son to not be such a picky eater, and also eat on his own without my husband or I having to feed him?

Dear parent,

First off, you are not alone in this. There are many parents who face similar challenges. It is important to remember that picky eating is temporary. If you don’t make it a big deal, it will usually end before school-going age.

Change will not happen overnight. It will take some time for you to see any changes or improvements. Don’t give up and always be consistent. Relax and take it easy. The key is consistency.

Here are some proactive things you can do to deal with fussy eating and help your child learn to eat on his own and try new foods:

  1. Offer the same foods for the whole family. Don’t be a “short-order cook,” by making a different meal for your child. Never cook something for your child that you would not eat yourself. Most children like to eat the meals their parents are eating.
  2. Make sure your child eats with the whole family. There is no point making him or her sit and eat, while no one else is. You would end up fighting a lost battle.
  3. Most kids like to try foods they help make. Encourage your children to help you prepare meals and snacks. Let them help you with the grocery shopping. Teach your child to tear lettuce or add veggie toppings to pizza, for example. You will be surprised what you can get children to eat if they have helped to prepare it.
  4. Try to make meals a stress-free time. Talk about fun and happy things. If arguments often happen at mealtimes, your child may develop unhealthy attitudes toward food.
  5. Offer two choices. Rather than asking “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask: “What would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?”
  6. Use the Bowl of Bites Method to decide the number of bites the child must eat.  At times, trying to negotiate the number of bites can be never ending and lead to arguments. This is where the bowl comes in (explained below).
  7. Your children will be okay even if they don’t eat a meal now and then. Children never starve themselves. If they are not eating, leave them be. Make sure snacks are out of reach, though. Carry on with your meal. Eventually when they do get hungry and want food bring out the plate of food that was not eaten during mealtime. Eventually they will give in and eat it. At this time, give them verbal reinforcement.

Bowl of bites
For some parents, establishing a required number of bites can help. Select a reasonable number of minimum bites, for example, five. Two or three bites are not enough. In a bowl, keep about 10 pieces of small paper, folded in half, with a number written inside them. Have a variety of numbers ranging from the minimum (in this case, six) to about nine. During mealtime say, “Let’s see what the bowl of bites decides for us.” Allow your child to pick out a piece of paper and read the number on it. Whatever the number says is the number of bites that are required to be eaten. If your child is the type to go back and forth negotiating to get his way, the best way to get around such a situation to remove yourself out of the negotiation. These “bowls” can also be adapted to be used in many other situations.

For a child who will not eat on his or her own, the bowl of bites can also help by establishing the number of bites the child has to eat on his own. In this case, the numbers could start smaller such as three. Alternatively, taking turns can help. Your child takes a bite on his or her own and then you feed them the next bite and so on. Eventually, as they get comfortable with this, you can feed less and less bites.

Change will not happen overnight. It will take some time for you to see any changes or improvements. Don’t give up and always be consistent. Relax and take it easy. The key is consistency.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

Do you have questions for The Savvy Parent? Click here to submit them.