Mama Drama: Food Fights
posted by: Lisa Vratny-Smith
Dear Mama Drama:
My five-year-old son used to eat a wide variety of foods, but now he will only eat a handful. I am concerned about him getting adequate nutrition and that we are constantly fighting over food. This is becoming a huge power struggle and is a nightmare for all of us.
This is a frequent concern of many parents. Some children will eat anything and others are very finicky. Most children go through a picky phase at some point in their lives, but with time move past it. However, if your child has autism or other medical issues it will be important to consult with your medical practitioner or behavior specialist on how to handle this issue.
Food intake is one of the few things children have complete control over as adults make most decisions for them. Offering choices throughout the day is a wonderful way to empower children. They get practice at making decisions and learning about natural consequences. When children feel empowered, they are less likely to engage in power struggles over food and other issues.
When offering choices, make sure the choices are ones you can live with. Do you want to wear the red shirt or the yellow shirt? Do you want to tie your shoes by yourself or with help? Do you want to wash your face first or brush your teeth?
When extending these choices into food, again make sure the choices fit into the limits you are setting. Do you want cereal or eggs? Do want apples or pears? Do you want your noodles with butter or with red sauce? As you prepare meals, be creative with options for how you serve them. If broccoli is on the menu offer it plain, with butter, or with ranch dressing for dipping. If your son doesn’t like a particular food, try it again in a few weeks served a little differently.
Children who help prepare meals are more likely to eat them. Get your son involved in reading recipes, finding and measuring ingredients, stirring and serving the meal. There is an informative article at kidshealth.org that discusses fun ways to involve kids of all ages in cooking.
For your own sanity, and that of your son, it is critical to remember that your job as a parent is to provide healthy choices for your child, not to force him to eat. Only serving the foods your son wants perpetuates his limited diet. Have a family meeting about changing your food perspectives and set a rule about everyone tasting everything that is served. Set a good example by trying out foods you think you don’t really like, too…and remember that if your face is all scrunched up and you are already thinking “Eeewwww!” not even chocolate pudding will taste good. 🙂
If you have ongoing concerns you will want to rule out medical issues such as allergies, celiac’s disease, and sensory processing that could be impacting your son’s willingness to eat certain foods.
How do you help your child have a balanced diet?
Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to Lisa@milehighmamas.com, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.