Nutrition for Children: Overcoming Picky Eating
Parenting is not for the weak. It takes bravery, compassion, toughness, and several other traits combined to raise a child into a productive member of society. And parents , for the most part, naturally worry about the health and welfare of their own offspring. The more healthy a child winds up in adulthood, the more successful a parent feels. However, there are the occasional roadblocks that stands between your baby and the well-functioning adult. And that roadblock that often stands in between you and good nutrition for your child is picky eating. Almost every child goes through a phase in which they can’t stand the idea of eating vegetables. What causes the behavior? And what can parents do to mitigate that behavior?
Why Children are Picky
After a series of studies that dated back to the 1990s there has yet to be a specifically determined conclusion behind why children are picky. Sometimes, it is a behavioral issue. Other times, they are emulating their own parents food choices, or just fall sway to social influence. There is also a possibility they are testing the limits of what to obey and disobey. Or, they could have no reason and they are just being a kid. Whatever the reason, the last thing a parent or guardian needs to do is panic. Panicking leads to the possibility of not addressing the issue with your child or possibly screw up the way they see food. I will explain what I mean.
The Danger of the Authoritarian Approach at Dinner
Authoritarian parenting, as a rule of thumb, is often a style that is deemed controlling. The authority of the parent is absolute, and there is level of strictness that can be seen as overreaching. In households like this, the approach to solving finickiness ranges to the demand of ‘cleaning off the entire plate’ to reheating a neglected dinner from the night before for breakfast. There is also a restriction on things like sweets or unhealthy food items usually.
While it sounds good on paper, in the sense of encouraging obedience, it doesn’t exactly translate well into the child’s adult life. For example, when it comes to the ‘clean your plate’ rule, it has nothing to do with listening to your body. “When a child’s appetite is ignored, he or she may lose the ability to regulate his or her own internal hunger and fullness cues, and this can cause weight problems.” Also, the consistent ban on things like sweets and sugary cereals tend to make children focus on the things they can’t have which can lead to sneaking around and outright binging behavior when they come into contact with the banned items.
In fact, a restrictive setting at mealtime is five times more likely to contribute to eating patterns leading to obesity.
However, that does not mean that it is okay for a parent to let the child call the shots 100% of the time either.
The Danger of a Permissive/ Neglectful Approach to Dinner
If a child is given permission to eat what they want, when they want, or when they are left to fend for themselves, it will end just as badly as the children who were too strictly regulated. Children who are given everything they want are not only less likely to regulate what they are eating, they are also more likely to not adhere to a scheduled mealtime. Both the combination of fast food and lack of structure can cause excess weight gain and health problems.
Children who are left to fend for themselves are even worse off, because food insecurity can cause not only a preference for junk food that can last longer, but binging behavior when there is food present, since they do not know when they are going to get it next.
So, if Authoritarian is too rough, and Permissive is too soft, what would be the ideal style of parenting that can help children develop good dietary habits and nutrition?4
Authoritative- Tough yet Fair
The best way to introduce the concept of balanced nutrition is letting your child get involved in the mealtime process but not letting them have complete control. This can look like giving them a choice between two vegetables for dinner. Or letting them help with the kitchen prep work. After all, children are more likely to eat what they made themselves. Heck, you could even make dinner time a teachable moment for your child by trying a vegetable that you don’t like together.
What makes authoritative parenting a great asset to combat picky eating is that it acknowledges the feelings of the child, but still sets boundaries. All that you need is a little bit of patience and open communication.