Parenting brings many joys, along with those moments of despair which make even the most confident mother or father wonder why kids don’t come with a rule book or even a return option! One aspect of family life which tends to commonly cause angst and tension relates to food – particularly when you have a picky, [or ‘selective’], eater to contend with.
The Importance of Food in Relationships
Human interaction and relationships are based on various unspoken rules and rituals which shape our daily lives, and for better or worse, food plays a pivotal role in many of them. Having the means and ability to feed your nearest and dearest satisfies primal urges which are essential to natural harmony, so when these are seemingly rejected by kids who refuse to eat as you would like them to, life tends to get a whole lot more stressful.
Meal times are not much fun if they become a battle between parents coaxing or insisting children eat, and dealing with the refusals or demands for a limited food menu which inevitably follow when your offspring has clear ideas on what is acceptable for them to eat.
Then there are the more general concerns over evidence which suggests children of families who don’t eat together regularly – and here it makes sense to assume that means regular relaxed shared mealtimes – are much more likely to be overweight, have trouble in later life with drugs and and/or alcohol, and do less well academically.
All is Not Lost
The fact that so many social occasions involve eating probably doesn’t help. Family BBQs, parties, and celebration meals in restaurants can trigger feelings of dread equal to those of excitement at the thought of what lies ahead.
Luckily neophobia – the fancy term for a fear of new foods, which underpins most picky eating habits in small children, is something most of them will grow out of; especially if they are regularly exposed to new foods despite the difficulties that can bring. Penciling in the time for a weekly dinner in a family friendly restaurant is a great way to introduce new food experiences while accustoming the child involved to such environments.
The aim here is twofold: to make food and eating both comfortable and fun. Try blindfold taste tests, or ‘touch and guess the food’ games before looking at something like the Red Lobster menu, which is available online, and using the dishes there to find and print images say of the fish they sell. These can be used to play a matching game, or a printed menu can be used for a restaurant role play. Show your child images of the restaurant online, including the food and the menu, and encourage them to choose food for everyone in the family.
The thought of eating out with fussy eaters may seem like too much trouble to attempt, but with some planning and persistence it can work. Perhaps because, above all, by even trying to do it you are giving your child the space to change and grow as they explore their relationship with food, and that is simply priceless.