Mealtime can be stressful for a lot of families, especially when a picky eater is involved. Whether you’re making one or multiple meals, fetching thing after thing for the table, or cleaning up, you’re likely exhausted after the fact. And, nothing is more stressful than trying to expand your picky eaters’ food repertoire. It may end in arguments, tears, or your child becoming more selective in their eating. One recommendation I give to ALL families is to ensure you’re providing low pressure, positive food-related experiences at home. There are so many benefits (and many negative impacts of pressure during meals).
The importance of providing low pressure food-related experiences:
1. Reduces Anxiety
A low-pressure environment helps reduce anxiety and stress associated with mealtime, allowing picky eaters to feel more relaxed and open to trying new foods. Whereas, pressuring picky eaters during mealtime can heighten their anxiety and stress levels. The pressure to eat certain foods or quantities can create a negative association with mealtimes, making it even more challenging for them to try new foods or enjoy the eating experience.
2. Increases Positive Associations with Food
When mealtime is stress-free, picky eaters are more likely to develop positive associations with food, leading to improved eating habits and a willingness to explore new tastes and textures, which in turn leads to an expansion in food repertoire over time.
3. Encourages Independence
A low-pressure environment empowers picky eaters to make their own choices about what and how much to eat, promoting a sense of independence and autonomy (what kid doesn’t want to be independent?). I love family-style meals, which allows each person to dip out their own food, which means they get to choose the foods they have on their plate and how much. I also like to recommend allowing your picky eater to help serve everyone at the table because they interact with foods they may not be serving themselves. Try using fun serving utensils, like tongs, to make it more enticing for your little one to help out.
4. Prevents Mealtime Battles
Pressure during mealtime can often lead to power struggles between parents and picky eaters. This resistance can result in mealtime becoming a battleground, causing frustration, tension, and a negative atmosphere that hinders the child's willingness to explore new foods. Creating a low-pressure environment helps minimize conflicts and allows for a better and harmonious mealtime experience.
5. Foster Positive Social Interactions
Mealtime often serves as a social gathering for families. A low-pressure environment allows picky eaters to engage in positive social interactions with family members, encouraging a sense of belonging and enjoyment during meals.
6. Promotes Self-Regulation
By providing a low-pressure environment, picky eaters have the opportunity to listen to their internal hunger and fullness cues, fostering self-regulation and a healthier relationship with food.
7. Supports Sensory Exploration
Some picky eaters have sensory sensitivities that can make them resistant to certain textures, tastes, or smells. Creating a low-pressure environment allows them to explore and become more comfortable with different sensory experiences related to food.
On the flip side, pressure during mealtimes can…
1. Reinforce Negative Associations
Pressure during mealtime can reinforce negative associations that picky eaters have with specific foods or mealtimes in general. It may solidify their aversions and make it even more challenging for them to develop a positive attitude towards trying new foods.
2. Limit Food Variety
Pressure can contribute to a reduction in the variety of foods that picky eaters are willing to eat. They may become even more resistant to trying new foods or textures, leading to a narrower range of accepted foods and potentially inadequate nutrition.
It is crucial to create a supportive and low-pressure environment during mealtime to help picky eaters overcome their challenges and develop a healthier relationship with food. Just remember - every picky eater is unique and therefore every child may need a different approach when it comes to addressing their feeding challenges. It’s important to seek individualized treatment and recommendations from a qualified professional, such as a speech language pathologist or pediatric feeding specialist, based on your child’s specific needs. This includes a comprehensive evaluation that will determine if there are underlying factors that need to be addressed first.
If you’re struggling with a picky eater at home, we can help! Kelly is a Speech Language Pathologist and a feeding specialist. If you have questions, please reach out to Kelly at Picky Eaters Online. She can answer your questions about feeding therapy, speech therapy, virtual therapy, and your child’s or teen’s specific needs. Contact Kelly and Picky Eaters Online at email@example.com or check out her website at https://pickyeatersonline.com/ to book a free consultation.
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