Tall and skinny. Those were the words the doctor used to describe my picky eating child. He dropped to the 10th percentile for weight, and while he was still growing, it was concerning.
The doctor glanced over in my direction, cocked her head to the side and reassured me with a variety of tips to teach healthy eating habits.
I picked my son off the exam table and prepared to leave the clinic. I was determined to sort out this picky eating issue, and more than anything, get my sweet boy to eat well.
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Picky eating tips for a stress-free mealtime
In general, trying to get a toddler to eat healthy foods can feel like a ginormous challenge, even with a little one who is a relatively good eater.
You cut the toast wrong.
You put the food on the wrong colored plate.
You mixed the food together and your child wanted it separate.
Any of those things can send a healthy eating child into an emotional tailspin. So how do you banish picky eating during mealtimes and keep your sanity? Try these 7 phrases.
“You don’t have to eat it.”
This phrase immediately takes the stress out of mealtimes. As much as we want to squeeze just one more piece of broccoli into our child’s belly, the truth is we can’t control what they eat.
And if we do try to control it, it quickly becomes frustrating and emotionally draining for both the parent and child. Saying, “You don’t have to eat it” creates a no-pressure family mealtime, where you offer healthy choices and the child chooses what to eat or not eat.
“You loved that.”
This is a great way to reinforce when your child takes a bite of something healthy and enjoys it. The more you name the behaviors you like, the more your child will start to show you those. All kids love to learn and experiment with what they like and what they don’t like. This phrase will help your child develop concrete ideas about what foods they love—even healthy ones!
“You tried it even though you weren’t sure.”
Another simple, yet super effective way to reinforce a behavior you like is to say, “You tried it even though you weren’t sure.”
If you see your child pushing their food around on the plate and later take a small bite, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying, “Quit playing with your food” or “Just one more bite.” But you may find that kids start to push back, resist more and eat less after hearing those phrases from parents.
Instead, you can flip the phrase to something positive and say, “You tried it even though you didn’t want to.” Most times, you will see the child’s eyes light up with excitement after a parent recognizes that they did something challenging.
“You know what’s right for you.”
This phrase immediately helps the child feel a sense of control over food choices. Kids may not be able to make 100 percent healthy choices. (We all know they would love only cookies for dinner.) But this phrase does validate the child’s ability to choose which healthy foods from their plate they want and need.
If the dinner plate is filled with only healthy choices, you’ll feel confident using this phrase and your child will enjoy the autonomy.
“You wish you could only eat…”
Validating wants through wishes is a great way to help your child know that you understand without giving in to unhealthy requests. It might sound something like this…
“Wow! You wish you could eat one-thousand cookies for dinner. Only cookies all day long. Gosh! That would be so much fun, wouldn’t it? You know, I wish that too sometimes!”
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“You know how to make healthy choices.”
This is my go-to phrase for all meal and snack times. If you don’t know what else to say, try this phrase out. You might not see an overnight transformation, but over a few weeks or a month, you will gradually see your child make better food choices.
“You ate until you were full.”
We live in a society that is motivated by the “clean plate club” and childhood obesity is rising more than ever. This phrase helps your child learn to eat until they are full and serves as a reminder to all of us: eat to live, not live to eat. Kids are amazing food regulators!
Need more great responses to childhood behaviors?
This two-page printable cheat sheet might help you along the way. This first page is all suggestions and the other has the second column empty to allow you to write in what works for you family. Simply input your email below and it will be in your inbox. Plus, since you’ll now be a part of the Extremely Good Parenting community, we’ll send you some other awesome freebies & advice from time to time.
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Helpful Phrases go beyond family mealtime.
Helpful Phrases are a simple and easy way to take the stress out of parenting and enjoy a more peaceful home. From bedtime to mealtime to handling big emotions, Helpful Phrases are the perfect tool for parents of toddlers and preschoolers. You can grab a free preview of book containing over 100+ Helpful Phrases here.
Lauren Tamm is the author of The Military Wife and Mom blog, where she writes on practical parenting, enjoying motherhood, and thriving through the ups and downs of military life. Connect with her on Facebook or Pinterest.