6 Tips to Help with a Picky Eater
From about age three through four and a half, my son was a terrible eater! He would only ever stick to his choice foods, which mainly consisted of mac & cheese, canned chicken noodle soup, pb&j, oatmeal, or spaghetti. I, not wanting to starve him would indulge him with said foods only. On the rare occasion we did branch out, not wild mind you, I'm talking eggs, chicken nuggets, PIZZA! He would then leave the food in his mouth and chew on it for what felt like hours. When I would scold him and tell him to swallow he would act as if he was gagging. I don't know where the fear came from, but his excuse was, he didn't want to choke. Needless to say my stress level was through the roof when it came to meal time. He would take forever to finish eating, and that's even if I handled it that long. I was at my wits end, and I certainly hated being an angry mom. I knew change needed to happen, and it needed to start with me. He's now five and a half and has made a complete 180 degree turn with his eating habits. Below I have outlined 6 tips that I found really helped in our meal time transformation.
- 1. Use a Timer.
- This one was huge for Noah because he's a very visual child. I couldn't just tell him 5 more minutes, he needed to see it. I set a timer at the start of every meal and gave him 45 minutes. If he hadn't finished his food in that time, I took his plate away, but he wasn't allowed to eat a single thing until his next meal. He would constantly get up to see the time trickle down. Soon he was finishing his meals with lots of minutes to spare.
- 2. Stop the Snacks.
- Noah is a very snack motivated child. Again, not wanting to feel as if he was starving, I would allow him to eat snacks at any time of the day. During our transformation he was only allowed his snacks after he had finished a meal. If he hadn't finished, he didn't get any. Simple.
- 3. Stop the Drinks.
- We also stopped serving him any drinks with his food, unless it was water. If he had finished his meal, he was allowed one cup of his preferred drink choice. I'm very happy to say, he actually prefers water now and is drinking so much more of it.
- 4.Offer a Variety and Stop being a Custom Order Chef.
- I didn't implement this right away, I wanted him to at least start eating within a decent time limit. Once he was doing better with that, I served him only what we ate (within reason.) Again, if he didn't finish there was absolutely no more eating until the next meal. This soon led him to start trying new foods and his pallet has expanded tremendously.
- 5. Implement a Reward System.
- Noah has his mama's sweet tooth, so we did two things with rewarding him. First, we always kept a supply of candy on hand. After meals, if he had finished within his time, he was allowed to have some. Nothing big, just a couple Hersey Kisses or a handful of m&m's. Second, a sticker chart. For each meal he finished he got to put a sticker on his chart. Once he reached 10 meals he was able to pick out an inexpensive toy. I wanted food to become a positive experience for him and not something he dreaded, so that leads me to my last tip.
- 6. Don't Get Angry.
- During those 45 minutes I did not pester him to eat. I didn't even acknowledge the food after I served him. I would tell him his food was ready and then leave him alone for the remainder of the time. Setting that time really helped me to keep my cool as well. Before I was constantly scolding him for not eating, or repeating myself over and over again to swallow. I did not like myself and a majority of meal times ended in tears on both sides.
We no longer need a timer, and eating has become second nature for him (you would think that's how it should be from the beginning.) Noah now eats a wide variety of foods and we are all much happier because of it. If you've stumbled across this article, it's probably because you have a picky eater on your hands. I know all kids are different, but I hope that at least one of these tips can help you both find mealtime happiness. Thanks for reading!