Breaking it down – the caregiver’s role in picky eating
Even though it may seem simple, feeding doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Mealtime can be a source of great comfort but also a source of great stress. If you are one of millions of families with children who struggle to eat variety and feel “stuck” on the same food (1), there are ways you can practice eating non-preferred foods at home. This blog give pointers on how to try to get your picky eater to try out some new or non-preferred food. See below for a few tips on how to get started.
Feeding expert Ellyn Satter said it best: the role of caregivers and children are very different at mealtime. According to the Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibilities Model, the parent is responsible for what they serve, when, and where they serve the food. The child is responsible for whether or not they eat it and how much (2). That’s it!
Parents, let’s break it down. When introducing a new food, what are YOU responsible for?
- What: What do you want your kiddo to try today? When serving a new food, start small; 1 Tablespoon of food per year of their age (3). Also, consider the different ways you could present it – pureed veggie dip, baked fruit with sugar, or crunchy meat sticks are some nontraditional ways of serving a new food!
- When: Next, consider when to introduce these foods. You know your child best; if displaying a new food at mealtime will cause a meltdown, don’t do it! Maybe during snack, you can offer a small serving of new food with their preferred food. Feel free to eat with them and be good company – the better their experience at the table the more likely they will try again.
- Where: Finally, pick a place in your home where you child will feel supported and focused. Instead of a formal dining room table or high counter top, try a play table suited for their height so the child will be sitting with feet flat on the floor and their back supported.
Good news! This is where your role ends. Now, what is your CHILD responsible for?
- Whether or not they eat: Trusting your child to eat when they are ready can be hard, but whether or not they eat it is up to them. Remember, playing with food is an option! Encourage them to kiss, lick, touch, play with or help clean up if eating isn’t an option today.
- How much: Although we’ve all heard the phrase, “finish everything on your plate,” research is finding it’s better to let children respond to their own hunger cues. Children their age have fluctuating appetites and it is acceptable for them to taste a little then excuse themselves when they’re finished. (4)
Your child is in a brand-new phase of life with increasing expectations and responsibilities at mealtime. Things can get stressful! If you find these tips aren’t working for you, reach out to your primary care physician to explore other possible explanations for your child’s food preferences.
There is no one way to eat a meal together and there certainly isn’t a bad way to feed your child, but following these tips with a little practice every day can boost your child’s confidence with new food and increase their chances of trying it later.
Does this apply to your family? Want to talk more? Learn how nutrition services can support your Blue Bird by contacting me at email@example.com.
(1) Feeding Matters (2020)
(2) Ellyn Satter, Ellyn Satter Institute (2019)
(3) American Academy of Pediatrics 1 (2019)
(4) American Academy of Pediatrics 2 (2019)