Repositioning Picky Eating: 5 Ways
By Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN
Helping families navigate the challenges of picky eating, I've discovered that empathy and compassion are essential ingredients in fostering positive change. It’s not just about coaxing the picky eater to try new foods rather it's about understanding their narrative first and foremost which always offers invaluable insight into the why. Once that’s sorted through, here are five key strategies that I've used personally and use in practice.
Create a Safe and Nurturing Environment
Picky eaters often feel anxious or stressed around meal times, fearing unfamiliar foods or the pressure to eat. They can also carry shame as most sense that they create stress for their families. By cultivating a safe and nurturing environment, free from judgment or coercion, their anxieties can be alleviated and a more positive attitude towards food is cultivated.
Create a relaxed atmosphere at mealtimes where they feel supported and valued; if chaos prevails, create a separate space to eat with them
Be patient, don’t rush them
Offer encouragement along the way
Respect Their Preferences and Limits
It's important to respect the preferences and limits of picky eaters, recognizing that their aversions may stem from anatomical challenges, digestive issues, sensory sensitivities or past negative experiences.
Don’t force them to eat foods they dislike
Empower them by offering a variety of options and allowing them to make choices based on their comfort level
Continually expose them to the same foods with new options
Children often mimic the behaviors of those around them, making it crucial for parents and caregivers to lead by example when it comes to food choices and attitudes.
Lead by Example
Children often mimic the behaviors of those around them, making it crucial for parents and caregivers to lead by example when it comes to food choices and attitudes. By modeling healthy eating habits and demonstrating a positive relationship with food, we can inspire picky eaters to choose healthfully and explore new flavors and textures with curiosity and openness.
Involve them in regular food shopping; this will open their eyes to a variety of healthy foods that they can choose
Cook with them
Share stories about food at the mealtime table
Encourage Exploration and Discovery
Rather than focusing solely on the end goal of expanding their palate, we can encourage picky eaters to approach food with a sense of curiosity and exploration.
Embark on sensory activities like a taste testing experiment that you do together
Incorporate educational elements into meal times, such as learning about where food where a food comes from and its health benefits
Grow herbs and vegetables in pots; if you can, build a garden
Picky eaters require a compassionate and empathetic approach that honors their individual preferences and challenges.
Celebrate Small Victories
Progress with picky eaters often occurs gradually, requiring patience and perseverance on both sides. It's important to celebrate even the smallest victories along the way, acknowledging their efforts and accomplishments.
Offer regular praise and encouragement
Continue to foster a positive and supportive atmosphere
Gently motivate picky eaters to continue exploring new foods and flavors with confidence and enthusiasm
Picky eaters require a compassionate and empathetic approach that honors their individual preferences and challenges. By creating a safe and nurturing environment, respecting their limits, leading by example, encouraging exploration and discovery, and celebrating their progress, we can empower them to develop a more expansive palate and achieve a new level of nourishment.
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