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5 Common Mistakes Parents Make with Picky Eaters

Dealing with picky eaters can be a challenging journey for many parents. From mealtime battles to worries about balanced nutrition, navigating the world of picky eating can sometimes feel like an uphill battle.

However, understanding the common mistakes parents make when dealing with picky eaters can be a game-changer in fostering healthier eating habits and reducing frustration at the dinner table.

In today’s blog post, we’ll cover the five common mistakes that parents often make when handling picky eaters. Plus, I’m offering you some alternative approaches to transform mealtime from a battle into a positive and enjoyable experience for both you and your littles.

Let’s dive in!

Mistake #1: forcing food

The first mistake we’re covering is forcing food, which essentially means pressuring or coercing a child to eat certain foods or a specific amount.

Pressuring your child to eat certain foods can create negative associations with mealtime or specific foods. Instead of associating mealtime with nourishment and family time, the child may associate it with stress or anxiety.

Research shows that pressuring your child to eat particular foods can actually decrease their acceptance of these foods in the long run. When forced to try new foods, your child may develop a stronger dislike for them and become less willing to try new foods in the future.

So, what should you do instead? Remove the pressure at mealtimes. Offer your child a variety of foods and let them explore at their own pace. It can take up to 10 to 12 times of offering a particular food for your child to take a bite.

mistake #2: offering rewards or punishments

The second mistake involves offering rewards or punishments, which means using bribes or threats to manipulate your child into trying new foods or eating their entire plate.

This approach can actually reinforce picky eating behaviors because it reinforces the idea that certain foods are undesirable or unpleasant.

Offering rewards or punishments also shifts the focus from intrinsic motivation (like hunger, enjoying the taste of food, or being curious about a new food) to extrinsic motivation (like receiving a reward or avoiding a consequence).

We want our children to follow their natural instincts when it comes to exploring new foods, developing their own preferences, and listening to their own hunger cues.

Rewards and punishments are often only a short-term solution, like a band-aid. They may work at first, but then you’ll find you need to sweeten the reward or change up the punishment for it to continue to be effective.

Instead, try creating a positive mealtime environment where your child feels comfortable to explore new foods. Offer a variety of new and familiar foods, involve your child in meal prep, be a role model by eating the same foods, and make mealtime enjoyable.

mistake #3: Catering to picky prefernces

The next mistake involves catering to your picky eater’s preferences. The key to addressing picky eating is to continue exposing your child to a variety of foods.

If we limit their usual choices to only the few items they’ll eat without complaint, we’ll reinforce those habits and restrict their food options.

This can be challenging because, of course, we want our child to eat at mealtime to grow and develop properly. I always recommend creating a balanced plate for your picky eater during meals.

Include familiar foods – these are items you know your picky eater will eat. But also, ensure you’re introducing new foods to the plate and offering items your child may have rejected in the past.

mistake #4: making separate meals

The next mistake parents sometimes make with their picky eater is preparing a different meal for the child than what the rest of the family is having. Not only is this exhausting (you’re adding more to your plate than you need to), but it can also leave you stuck in the picky eating cycle.

Two key strategies I’ve discussed when addressing other mistakes are exposing children to new or previously rejected foods and serving as a role model during mealtime. Both of these approaches are crucial for combating picky eating habits. When we serve our child a separate meal, we’re going against these principles.

Try to plan meals as a family that include something everyone enjoys. But also make suer you’re introducing new foods or foods your children have rejected in the past. Remember, it’s okay to offer foods you know your child likely won’t eat; exposure to these foods is essential.

Additionally, when your child sees you and other family members enjoying these foods at the table, it will pique their interest in trying them as well.

mistake #5: overreacting to food refusals

The final mistake we’re going to talk about is overreacting to food refusals. The emotional atmosphere at mealtime directly impacts your child’s behavior.

If, as a parent, you approach mealtime with frustration, stress, and negativity, your child may associate eating with negative feelings as well. This can lead to mealtime battles and aversions to certain foods.

Instead, create a positive, calm, and enjoyable mealtime experience for your child. The more relaxed your child is at mealtime, the more open they’ll be to trying new foods.

Quick recap, the 5 mistakes to avoid with your picky eater are forcing food, offering rewards or punishments, catering to picky eating preferences, making separate meals, and overreacting to food refusals.

If you find yourself making some of these mistakes, I encourage you to try the alternative approaches I’ve mentioned under each mistake to create a more positive environment at mealtime.

Remember, patience and consistency are key to combating picky eating habits. If you’re struggling to manage your picky eater, don’t hesitate to reach out to a nutritionist or pediatrician for guidance.

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