Is your dinner table a battleground? Here are five powerful phrases to help you make peace with your picky eaters.

You know those moments when you’re thisclose to losing it at the dinner table? When you’re feeling utterly defeated by your picky eaters? When you swear you’ll never cook another dinner for these ungrateful little people ever again?

You don’t have to dread dinnertime.

And the dinner table doesn’t have to feel like a battleground.

You have the power to instantly change the vibe at the table, for better or worse, by what you say or don’t say.

I have some magic words you can use.

Using the following five phrases won’t wondrously make your picky eaters suddenly love kale or transport you to a completely zen headspace (at least not right away).

But these phrases WILL ease tension at the table. And kids who feel comfortable at mealtime can relax, listen to their hunger and fullness cues, and be more receptive to eating–and even to trying new foods.

5 Things to Say To Your Picky Eater

Consider printing out this list and sticking it inside a kitchen cabinet as a reminder–especially helpful in the heat of the moment.

“You don’t have to eat it.”

This powerful statement instantly lowers tension at the table. If you’re used to playing the “just take one bite” game with your kids, this will be a big change for you. And your kids may be downright shocked at first.

But this phrase is a game changer because it removes the pressure.

Suddenly, dinner doesn’t feel like a fight. Your child has a choice. And mealtime is less stressful for everyone. Not convinced? Read: Should You Make Your Child Take Just One Bite?

“This is what we’re having for dinner. We also have XYZ on the table.”

My number-one piece of advice is to make just one meal for everyone at the table. That’s good for you (who has time to make multiple meals?) and your kids (they have way more motivation to eat what everyone else is having). Read more: The Dinnertime Rule That Will Change Your Life

If your child is used to eating a separate meal or having a reliable backup, this will be a big change, and they won’t be thrilled at first.

So make sure there’s always something on the table they tend to like–a side dish or meal component like plain tortillas or fruit. Then be okay with the possibility of your kid only eating plain tortillas or fruit.

Remember: We’re playing the long game here. One meal, one week, even one month of eating plain tortillas and fruit for dinner won’t make or break your child’s diet.

(Note: If you have an extremely picky eater who eats very few foods or is having difficulties with eating, this piece of advice is not for you–these children need “safe foods” to stay nourished.)

How a Taste Plate Can Help Picky Eaters

“Would you like to use a Taste Plate?”

Some kids don’t want new or unfamiliar foods on their dinner plate because those foods may feel legitimately scary.

A Taste Plate is a small dish that sits to the side of your child’s main plate. It’s a non-threatening place to put portions of foods you’d like them to try. Read more: How a Taste Plate Can Help Your Picky Eater

Make the portions on their Taste Plate very small, the size of a small bite. They can always have more if they like it. And don’t make tastes mandatory.

“You can spit it out if you don’t like it.”

Let your kids know they can politely spit out food they don’t like into a napkin.

For some kids, simply putting an unfamiliar (or previously disliked) food into their mouth can be scary. When they know they don’t have to chew and swallow those foods, it eases some of that fear and pressure and may encourage them to try more often.

“That’s okay if you’re not hungry. We’ll save your plate for later. Please sit with us for a bit to talk.”

Some kids, especially young kids, may not have the appetite or focus for family dinner at the time it’s scheduled. And some kids are simply spent come dinnertime.

If your child isn’t hungry or ready for dinner, let them know you’ll save their plate for later, when they are hungry. But have them sit with you for a reasonable amount of time to share in the family dinner experience (for young kids, this may be as little as five minutes).

Say this in a matter-of-fact way. It’s not a punishment! Instead, it’s a way to show compassion and respect their hunger.

(And when you save their plate, I highly recommend these cute, reusable bowl and plate covers that come in fun patterns and replace plastic wrap!) Read more: What To Do If Your Kid Won’t Eat Dinner

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