8 Strategies for Picky Eaters: End the Mealtime Battles for Good

8 Strategies for Picky Eaters: End the Mealtime Battles for Good

Is your dining table a battleground?

Do you engage in hostage negotiations over vegetables at mealtime instead of reflecting on the day?

Add insult to injury: Is the culinary masterpiece that you worked so hard on treated with contempt as your child throws it in the dog’s face or tells you how disgusting broccoli really is?

You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can lose your cool and drop your head on the table.

I understand you. As a working mom of two boys who were “discriminating” in their tastes when they were young, I know the “picky” issues and mealtime meltdowns. After implementing some strategies, I was finally able to end the mealtime wars. It’s good to know that my sons, now adults, eat their vegetables. There is hope for everyone!

Here are eight steps to help you end the battle with picky eaters at home:

1. Labels are not necessary

When we label our children’s eating habits, or any other behavior for that matter, we only compound the problem. If you have a picky child and you marked them as such, you may be causing problems. You will tell your child to “not eat this” or “only eat macaroni and cheese.”

Labeling your child’s eating habits gives her permission to continue with the behavior. It will also unintentionally prevent your child from trying new foods.

Positive labels about eating can also cause more problems than they solve. When you label a child as a “good eater,” his siblings will assume that he is the “bad eater,” creating an environment where sibling rivalry can thrive. Avoid labels, whether positive or negative.

2. Take control of your pantry

You are the one who purchases the groceries. They may enjoy a few candy bars at the movie theater or a cake at a party, but the fact is that most children eat the majority of the food they eat at home.

Do they eat too many Oreos, or are they just eating them? Throw them away. Do they drink more Coke than you permit? Pour them out. Do they eat too much sugary junk food and starch-rich snacks in your house? Take them out of your refrigerator and pantry. All you can offer is healthy options, so that’s what they will eat.

Close the fridge (and pantry) an hour or so before dinnertime if your children are not eating most of what you have put in your pantry.

This change won’t be easy. But is here to help you. You can’t always control what your kids eat, but you can choose what they eat.

Note to Members of Positive Parenting Solutions: Please see Lesson #22 for more information about how to use the Control the Environment tool to ensure that morning routines are smooth and run smoothly, to minimize sibling rivalry to tame technological battles, and to diffuse all kinds of power struggles.

3. Do not go to war at the dinner table

Don’t make mealtime a fight if you don’t wish it to be. It is not necessary to debate what kids eat every night or how much. Your job as a parent is to prepare and serve healthy meals for your children. You’ve done a good job if you make sure your child eats at least one fit food item. What’s next? Let it be. Seriously. You can let your child decide whether to accept it or not.

You can create a power struggle over food by saying well-intentioned things like “just try a bit” or “how will you know if you don’t enjoy it if won’t give it a try?” You can give your children the power to cause problems if you’re too invested in them making the “clean-plate club.”

Let the chips fall where they may (figuratively). Let the chips fall where they will. Your kids will become more manipulative and anxious if you’re anxious about what to eat at mealtime.

Be Switzerland when it comes to eating. Stay neutral. Stay neutral.

You will find that your mealtimes are more enjoyable if you avoid the fighting.

4. Do not use food as a reward

You’ve probably heard it a lot: “If you finish your meal and eat all your vegetables, then you get dessert.” Food is meant to be shared with family members, not used as a reward for good behavior.

Kids will want dessert if it’s positioned as “the good stuff you get after you choke down broccoli.” This also does not teach children healthy eating habits. We want our kids to enjoy eating healthy food, not just gulp it down to get something sweet.

As a Positive Parenting educator, I strongly advise parents to avoid using rewards in general. However, sweets can be used as a treat for good behavior, such as being obedient, picking up toys, or getting good grades. As a positive parenting educator, I strongly recommend that parents not use rewards. However, using candy as a reward can send mixed signals.

Consider it this way. Why do we reward children with the “less healthy and less beneficial” choice for good behavior? Why should they be rewarded with something unhealthy for being good?

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