This is my picky eating mantra. A child who is not served a varied diet will not eat a varied diet. Easy to understand - so much harder to act upon. When I am asked by parents what they should be feeding their children, in almost every case, my answer is that you should serve the food you want your family to be eating.
Yes, we can get caught up in how many serving of fruit and vegetables our children need each day, how much protein, what kind of carbohydrates and daily dairy intake etc. But you know this. And if you don't, then you know where to go to find out.
So you know what you'd like to be eating as a family. Nine times out of ten, when I ask parents to describe what they would like their family's diet to be like, they describe varied and healthy meals.
How to make the transition to the varied diet you want your family to be eating
1) Serve everyone the same meal. No special requests. No exceptions.
2) Teach your child that they can leave whatever they like, as long as they do it politely!
3) Assess how gently you need to tread...
This last point informs how suddenly you make the shift from only serving things you think your child will eat to serving the meals that you want your family to be enjoying. If you feel that your child's picky eating is really extreme and they have a very limited list of foods they will accept, don't go down this route - instead investigate getting some professional support and assessment.
If your child is fairly picky but does not seem to have an intensely anxious reaction to food and is not 100% consistent in the foods they reject, go for a planned move towards a varied diet (the topic of another next post I have in the pipeline).
If your child is only sometimes picky, make a total change from day one. Start serving the foods you want to be eating and disregard their likes and dislikes. I know this sounds harsh, but you can ignore their preferences whilst respecting their right to leave what they don't want.
Why is variety important?
- When you serve your child a limited number of dishes , you are giving them a message that unfamiliar foods are to be feared and are 'not for them'. Providing variety diminishes anxiety about new and disliked foods
- If a child can get used to often having unfamiliar foods on their plate, they are getting the valuable exposures they will need to bring them closer to accepting these foods
- Research shows that the most limiting factor when it comes to children's food preferences is unfamiliarity due to a child never having been offered a food
Serving a varied diet benefits the whole family and will make meals more enjoyable in the long run. Remember that children can find change hard so if you decide to widen the range of foods on the table in your home, expect it to take a while before everyone is used to it.