As parents, we often feel totally wiped out and pushed past our limit. How can we help our picky eater when we feel like that? Let me show you how to start believing you can help them learn to eat new foods…
Have you realized that getting a picky eater to eat a new food requires effort from us, the parents? Once we realize the picky eating isn’t going away, we all tend to go though a phase of wishing we had a magic wand or secret trick so our kids would instantly start eating well.
I think you know that’s not the case.
But, as parents, we’re often juggling more balls than we can count and having the energy or clear-mindedness to help our kids with picky eating seems impossible with how tired, stressed, or overwhelmed you feel.
That’s why, in this post, I want to talk about parenting on a larger scale, because in the wise words of Oprah “Being a parent is the hardest job on earth.”
In my teens, college years, and early 20’s, I was a faithful Oprah watcher. I heard her make that statement dozens of times, which says a lot about what she observed as a woman without any kids. Still, I didn’t quite get it. It sounded cliche to me, but many times over the last decade of raising my 3 boys those words have rang in my head…
I’ve heard them when I felt I couldn’t do anything else but cry because my child had thrown another meal all over the floor.
I’ve heard them when I had to walk back into my 8 year old’s room for the countless night in a row to work through his anxiety.
I’ve heard them when I felt like I was failing as a mother because I couldn’t do it all.
I now KNOW that parenting is the hardest job on earth, of course, it’s also my greatest privilege too. While I’m focusing on “picky eating” in this post, what you’ll learn applies to any challenge your child is facing that is wearing you down or you don’t think you have the energy for.
You can believe in yourself as a parent even when you’re struggling with stress, overwhelm, and exhaustion!
We Don’t Expect the Challenge of Picky Eating
Picky eating is a particularly difficult challenge for parents because we often don’t see it coming. We sort of prepare ourselves for the fact that maybe our child will need some help walking or talking, but we rarely think of eating. And, if we do, we imagine a child that doesn’t love vegetables, not the child that only has 4 foods in his diet and gags when broccoli is put on his plate.
Why Picky Eating Is Soooo Hard on Parents
Your child’s limited diet is something you have to face 4-6 times a day, day after day, week after week, and sometimes year after year. It grinds on you and sometimes you’re able to push it aside, not really deal with it, until there’s a birthday party or family meal. Most mean well, but it’s often not long before you hear another annoying comment like, “Ya know, you should just do the ‘try-it’ bite rule, that’s what we do in our house and it works like a charm.”
But, nonetheless, you’re dodging those conversations all the time.
On top of that, helping kids with picky eating often forces us to change our own eating habits, and that’s not easy. It can even feel like a sacrifice, one that you’re struggling to make.
We all have eating habits.
Some of us like to have a late night, quiet, adult dinner after the kids are in bed. Some like to get home after a long day of work and eat together in front of a favorite TV show. And, some are so busy that meals are mostly in the car. I say that with no judgement, but working on picky eating is much harder in all of those scenarios.
And, that’s where the weight of picky eating starts to feel really heavy, even overwhelming.
Not only have I lived working through all of this as a parent, but I’ve watched hundreds of others grapple with the struggle too.
What Are Your Priorities?
That’s why I think the most important first step you can take to believing you have the strength and ability to help your child with picky eating is to do a priority check. You just read that and you might be tempted to blow me off.
You might think, “I know my priorities.”
And, in a sense, of course you do.
But, with all of the incredible awesomeness that we have access to with technology and education, I also think we’ve added so many more balls that we’re juggling without even realizing it. So, if you’re doubting this critical step, humor me and try it. It’ll be worth it.
To really know what your priorities are, you’ve got to find a free 10-15 minutes. It doesn’t matter when it is. Nap time, bed time, a quick run to Starbucks when you have an extra hand. Whenever works for you, make this time happen.
Grab a piece of paper and quickly write down everything that comes to your mind as a priority. Try not to even think, this is quick brainstorming!
Once you’ve got that list, prioritize it.
What are your top three?
How about your top 10?
You Can’t Do It All
Now, you’ve got to think honestly about how and where you’re spending your time and what can “not be a priority” for right now. It doesn’t mean that it has to go completely, but it means that if there’s not a enough time, you’re not going to get to it.
Sometimes there’s some easy, even glaring areas, that we can adjust quickly.
Just like my neighbor who realized that although she really liked waking up and messing around on her phone for 20-30 minutes while she was still in bed, it wasn’t a priority over starting her day with some exercise and a hot shower she could enjoy without a thousand interruptions. When she stopped looking at her phone and got out of bed, she felt great starting the day and was able to feed into her other priorities, her kids and job, without nearly as much stress or overwhelm.
A key to prioritizing is accepting the fact that you can’t do it all.
Yup, I know it sounds like another cliche. But, think about that for a minute, many of us (myself included) constantly get sucked into the trap of believing that we can. If your like me, you might not always be aware that you’re even doing it.
Somethings always got to give.
Being mindful of what it is we’re giving up so we have the energy to help our kid with picky eating is a huge step in us believing that we’ve got what it takes.
Because the truth is, that you do. You do have what it takes!
How to Believe in Yourself When Picky Eating Stresses You OUT!
So, let’s talk specifics! Now that you’ve got the big picture of setting your priorities, there’s some more critical tips and steps you can take to make sure that you know that you can help your child, however they need it!
1. Get 7-8 Hours of Sleep – Listen, don’t get me started on this, and you might be rolling your eyes. But this is essential, you are not your full self when you’re tired. I know you could be struggling with a child that doesn’t sleep well, but this has got to be high on your priorities to get the best sleep you possibly can. Because when you do, you can show up and believe in the day, and all of it’s challenges so much better!
2. Eat Well – This is going to look different from person to person. Maybe you don’t even know what that means, but the food we put in our bodies absolutely has a direct effect on how we feel. The wrong foods can cause stress, anxiety, and fatigue. If you aren’t sure what foods your body does well with, keep a journal for a week. Take notes on how you feel within a few hours of eating.
Trust me, you’ll see the patterns. One thing I learned is that eating 4 cups of goldfish crackers at lunch because that’s all you have time for isn’t good for you in any way!
3. Plan Time for Yourself – Depending on your situation, this might seem laughable, but even if it’s just once a month for 30 minutes, it will help. Maybe it’s just a walk, maybe it’s grabbing coffee with a friend? Heck, it could even be waking up early to read your favorite book or pray/reflect/meditate. If this seems overwhelming, start small.
And, the first thing you do for yourself should be something that the thought of doing it fills you with joy!
4. Make a Commitment – If you keep telling yourself, “I don’t have the time, but I can’t stand the picky eating for another second,” then start with making a commitment to what you can do. It doesn’t matter how small it is. A start is a start. Is there a blog post you’ve been wanting to read? Or, maybe that picky eating quiz you wanted to take (take it here, it’s awesome)?
Or, maybe you’re going to start with Sunday night dinners where you all sit down together to eat?
Whatever it is, make a commitment and tell somebody so that you’re accountable.
5. Write It Down – Once you’ve made that commitment to help your child with picky eating, write it down. Put it on your list of priorities! And then, post it somewhere where you’ll see it in the morning.
Want to take this another step further, then re-write this list once a week so it stays fresh in your mind, and as your commitment grows you can update it!
6. Make It Part of Your Routine – If you’ve committed to having family meals 3 times a week or to learning more about picky eating for an hour a week, then check in with that everyday to make sure you’re on track. This only needs to take a minute, and if you’ve posted your commitment on your bathroom mirror, you can do it when you brush your teeth.
It might help to put a reminder on your phone, or grab a post-it note (my go-to method) so that I don’t forget what I’ve committed to!
7. Focus on Small Steps – Students from my picky eating program, Mealtime Works, will tell you that progress with picky eating happens one step at a time. Often, we want to see the big result first. We want our kid to suddenly say, “You know what, I will try that broccoli today.”
And, while that is eventually possible even for the pickiest of eaters, there are usually lots of small steps along the way that need to happen first.
That’s what I want you to focus on, what’s the first step you can take?!?
Get the Free Printable for Next Steps
At this point, you might be wondering what your next steps are or should be. Well, to figure that out, you’ve got to take this quiz I created that tells you what type of a picky eater your child is (I’ve got 4 types). This is so important because once you know what you’re dealing with, I’ve got some beginning steps you can take to start helping them learn to eat more foods.
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.