One of the biggest frustrations for many parents is when kids refuse to eat a variety of healthful foods. While this is a normal stage of development – kids generally start out being willing to eat anything between about 6 months and 2 years of age, and then suddenly, frustratingly become unwilling to try new foods between the age of 2-3.
For many parents, attempts at negotiation (“eat [this], and I’ll give you [that]) and coercion (“eat your vegetables or no dessert”) often give way to throwing hands in the air and just giving the kids what they like, so at least they’ll eat something.
Here I introduce an alternate strategy which I call the 10 “rules” of picky-free parenting.
These ‘rules’ offer an approach based on the best science around the most effective parenting practices in helping to raise healthy eaters. They also take out a lot of mealtime stress and frustration.
1. As parents, we will be good role models. We will only ask the kids to eat foods that we are willing to eat ourselves.
2. As parents, we will decide what foods are offered, when, and where. As kids, we will decide, of the food that is offered, what we will eat and how much.
3. We will value the process of learning to be more adventurous eaters. We will be willing to try new foods, even if it is just a taste.
4. We do not have to clean our plates. We will listen to our bodies and let hunger be our guide.
5. We will not offer food rewards. In other words, we do not have to ‘eat our vegetables’ in order to get dessert. We will not reward good behavior with sweets and ‘treats’.
6. Mealtimes are a family affair. As often as we can, we will shop, cook, and eat together.
7. We are one family, and we will eat one meal. We will not make separate meals. But we will be sure to include at least one thing each family member likes at each meal.
8. We will learn together about food, nutrition, farming, and cooking.
9. We will have fun, play, and experiment with new foods.
10. We will be consistent in following these rules, but not rigid.
Note: Kids with particularly severe picky eating habits may benefit from additional screening and evaluation. In these cases, talk with your child’s pediatrician.
*The AAP’s HealthyChildren.org offers a free webinar for parents on The 10 Rules of Picky-Free Parenting.
Adapted from Muth, ND & Sampson S. The Picky Eater Project: 6 Weeks to Happier, Healthier Family Mealtimes. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.