The struggle to feed picky eaters is a universal one among parents. I am currently fighting this battle myself, and it's proved to be a lot more challenging that I thought it would be. Not only do I have to worry about what I feed my kids, but I have to worry about what they're exposed to when they're with friends or visiting family or at school. For that reason, I've come up with some rules for eating around my kids.
No, I'm not a sugar oppressor or a diet dictator or a complete tyrant when it comes to what my kids eat, but I do want them to see a healthy example and inevitably follow it. As someone who struggles with a sugar addiction (yes, a real one), I can vouch for how difficult it is to walk the straight and narrow when it comes to nutrition. I wish my parents had never let me have that first cookie or ice cream or cupcake. I mean, who knows? Maybe I wouldn't have to avoid keeping sweets in my house.
Now that I'm trying to feed picky eaters of my own, I guess I understand why my parents caved when it came to sugar. Dealing with public tantrums is easily solved with a cookie or a sucker, and in those moments of stress, I can completely understand the desire to do whatever you have to do to get people to stop staring at your flailing child. However, I can't let that become routine,and I can't let that dictate my decisions when it comes to what I feed my kids. I have to (or more accurately, have chosen to), at the very least, make an effort to put good food in front of them on a consistent basis. I also realize that it doesn't stop there. I need my friends and family, and anyone else who might be taking care of my kids at some point, to do the same. Call me crazy or overbearing or whatever else you want, but please, for the sake of my children's health and their future relationship with food, if you're eating around my kids, try to follow the following ten rules:
Avoid Choking Hazards
Avoiding choking hazards isn't necessarily nutrition related, but it's definitely important. My kids are still young (almost 3, and 19 months), so I have to be vigilant when I prepare their food. The other day we were at my grandparent's house, and my grandma tried to feed my toddler a peppermint. Since he's never experience hard candy before, and since he's constantly running, something as simple as a peppermint could be potentially harmful. So, please, if you're eating around my kid, be sure to pay attention so they don't "steal" something potentially hazardous on from your plate.
Don't Celebrate A Bowl Full Of Sugar
Seriously, I'm extremely aware of how addictive sugar is. In fact, research has shown that cocaine and heroine are less addictive than Oreos. Seriously! I don't want to be a prude when it comes to sweets, but I also don't want my kids to crave them like they're hard drugs. If you're eating around my kids, maybe just save the dessert for when they're not looking, and try not to praise the sugary sweetness of hot fudge sundaes around them.`
Pretend Like You Love Vegetables, Even If You Don't
I'm not a huge vegetable lover. I mean, I'll eat them, but they definitely aren't something that I look forward to. I'm trying to reverse that habit by incorporating more vegetables into our diet. When I eat them, I pretend like I just bit into a giant cupcake. I "oooh" and "ahhhh" and "mmmm," and I always go back for more so that they'll see me eating them, too. I figure, if they see me enjoying a vegetable, they'll be more encouraged to try them, too. If you could and/or would be willing to do the same, that would be fantastic.
Show Them That Trying Something New Can Be Fun
Part of feeding a picky eater is trying to incorporate fun into mealtime or snack time. I try to look the most excited every time something different is on my plate, and my kids definitely take notice. They will mirror what they see adults do, so even if you aren't too thrilled about the asparagus on your plate, pretend like you are.
This doesn't have anything to do with picky eaters, but I'm trying not to raise little jerks. So if you're around my kids, and especially if you're eating at a restaurant, be police. Tip your waitress and don't be rude to someone who is serving or preparing your meal. I mean, this is basic humanity 101, guys.
Try To Eat Real Food, Instead Of Something Completely Processed
I get it, processed food is quick and easy, and dammit if it doesn't taste delicious. I'm OK with serving my kids processed food in moderation (I'm a human being who gets exhausted and doesn't always want to cook, after all) but I try to make it a last resort, rather than my go-to dinner option. If you could do the same, I would love you forever. And hey, it's better for them and for you.
Don't Make Them Feel Bad If They Don't Want To Try Something
If you try and fail to get my child to try something new, don't worry about it. I fail at it pretty much every day, and I appreciate your effort. If they turn their nose at something you offer them, just don't guilt trip them. Don't shame them or vocally compare them to someone else or attempt to force them to eat something they clearly don't want to eat. I love my dad to pieces, but he gives my son such a scornful look when he turns away something my dad tries to feed him. Feeding picky eaters is hard, and failure, at some point, is inevitable.
Praise Them When They Try Something New
Positive reinforcement goes a long way with children. If they take even just one bite of broccoli, give them a standing ovation. Sing their praises. Tell your friends. Make an announcement. Pretend you're in awe. And then, give yourself a pat on the back, too, because you are a hero, my friend!
We're all guilty of overeating at some point, because dammit if our grandma's cooking isn't life-changing. It happens all the time, to all of us. I want to teach my children to have a healthy relationship with food, which essentially translates to, "eat until you're full." I don't want my children to think they can't eat food or they'll get "too big" or living off a restrictive diet, and I don't want kids to overeat either. So, practicing to do the same will go a long way to ensure that my children won't eat too much, or too little, but just the right amount.
No Soda. Period.
If you're eating with my child and want to drink a soda, that's fine, but please don't let them try it. Consider soda the, "he who shall not be named" part of my child's life. Once they get one sip of that sugary sweetness, there's no turning back.