Being a “picky eater” is a problem most children will outgrow. When a child is on a gluten-free diet, it is crucial to make sure they are getting the nutrients they need to develop properly. Here are five tips to manage the “picky” children in your family and help them improve and become more adventurous eaters.
1. Avoid the Term “Picky Eater”
When you use the term “picky eater,” it can give the person permission to be one. And “picky” can be perceived as “ungrateful,” which we would never want. There are so many positive attributes to use like “smart,” “kind” and “creative,” that you wouldn’t want to throw a negative label into the mix. If a child is more selective or choosy about the foods he eats now, it is likely just a stage. The more open and hopeful you are to that possibility, the more open he or she will be too.
2. Let Your Child Get an Appetite
Snacking throughout the day usually leads to being more choosy at meal times. When kids and adults refuse food, they are usually telling you they are not hungry. Allow them to attain an appetite for meals by reducing the quantity and frequency of snacks between meals. When they are hungry, they will eat.
3. Keep Their Options Small and Simple
Kids like to feel independent and empowered, so work on how you speak to them. Try to stay away from yes or no questions around mealtimes. I give my daughter the power to prioritize within food groups and it works great. For example, I let her pick her protein at lunch: “hard boiled eggs, a cheese stick or turkey slices?” This way “no” isn’t as much of an option.
Try asking, “Do you want peppers or cucumbers with your sandwich?” instead of, “What do you want for lunch?” The more options you present to children, the more overwhelmed they (and you) will be. Narrowing down the selections will help streamline your food shopping as well.
4. The More in Sight, The More in Stomach
Keep serving and eating veggies and healthy foods and children will process that that is the right way to eat. Your kids want to be like you in many ways and will imitate you. When you eat well, your kids will start to do the same. Even if they are hesitant to try it at first, they will start to learn what appropriate eating looks like, which is a giant leap in the right direction for their futures.
5. It’s All Out of Love
Every time we eat, it is an opportunity to optimize our growth, fuel our bodies and prevent us from getting sick. It is okay to tell your child that she cannot have that cookie for dinner. Parents can be so scared of saying “no” to their kids, but there needs to be a sense of balance and appropriateness as well.
I always say, you wouldn’t let your kid stay up until 2 a.m. on a school night, so why would you let them eat candy first thing in the morning? Feeding your family wholesome foods is an essential part of parenting that can require creativity, planning and structure. It won’t likely change overnight, but through positivity, preparation and proper role modeling, you will get there.
Encourage your kids to get involved in preparing their meals! Try our Kids’ Kitchen recipes, including DIY Gluten-Free Dumplings, Lemon and Butter Shrimp Pasta, Protein Pancakes, Triple-Decker Quesadillas and Thai Coconut Soup.
She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Maryland, sits on the prestigious Executive Leadership Team for the American Heart Association, and leads the Bruin Health Improvement Program at UCLA.
Ilana acts as a nutrition consultant for several companies, including Beachbody and Whole Foods Market. She’s also a contributing writer for publications such as SELF, the Huffington Post, and the Journal of Obesity. At home, she is a wife and mother of two.