Growing up, my sister hated tomatoes. She would do anything to avoid eating tomatoes, including hiding them in her napkin, shoving them onto my plate or simply just sitting there and refusing to eat them.
Not surprisingly, my parents didn't like any of these choices. I remember her sitting at the table long after dinner just looking at the tomatoes. She was very stubborn and eventually my parents came up with a new family rule. We could have one food that we didn't have to eat. Immediately, my sister picked tomatoes and the battles between my parents with my sister's aversion were over.
The "one food choice" worked for my parents because my sister really only didn't like one thing. But how do you cure children when the list of foods they don't like could fill a whole book?
If your mealtimes are full of phrases like, "I'm not going to eat that", "I don't like that" or a personal favorite, "ew ... what is that? It smells funny!" don't despair. There's a way you can encourage your kids to eat their food (without forcing them to finish everything off their plate). Just start with family dinners.
A lot of food anxiety come to kids who eat alone. When it's just them and the food, it becomes a face-off for the child and that's why they work so hard to win. Making family dinner can be hard with varying work schedules, late nights and short tempers. Sometimes you can't find the time to sit down and eat with your children, but for the sake of your kids (and their palate), it needs to happen.
Community meals let your kids learn from you example. When they see you eating the food, they themselves are more likely to eat it without complaint. Plus, it give the whole family a chance to connect and communicate — something that doesn't happen enough. Use these tips to help make family dinner happen in your house:
Sometimes schedules really don't allow you all to sit down together every day but you can at least start by eating together at least once a week.
Dinners are a time that you all can sit down, put your phones away and talk about what is happening in everyone's lives. Hopefully, when you are all sitting down they will be too involved talking and laughing to really notice what they are eating, something Ashley McGuire (mother and Institute for Family Studies writer) experienced firsthand: "This past August, I watched in awe as my normally picky eater casually ate everything on her plate. She was sitting at a picnic table, lakeside in northern Michigan, surrounded by five or six other cousins her age. They were all so busy giggling and talking, they barely noticed what they were eating."
Allow the children to help make the dinner — it'll help turn the meal into an event. You can try new recipes and get the kids excited to cook with you each night. Plus, your children will be excited to eat something they helped to make. Mother Noelle Howey used this technique (and a few others, courtsey of Real Simple) to help solve the picky-eater problem in her home, with (mostly great) success.
When we are in a rush, we tend to eat at the kitchen counter or around the TV. Instead, turn off electronics and gather around the table. The important part of family dinner is to sit down, have your children be able to look at you and your spouse and join in on the conversation. Having everyone feel included can help your kids voice their concerns about life (and about foods they might not like) and work towards a solution as a family.
Hopefully, if you eat together, your kids will be less likely to be picky about the food that you make them. Eating together will also strengthen your family relationships making this a win-win situation.