If you’ve ever planned a meal in your life, you know that doing so can help you spend less in business, be more organized, and reduce your family cooking stresses. But did you know that meal planning can help improve what a picky eater eats?
Having a picky eater is hard
As a nutritionist who has worked with thousands of parents, I have seen how difficult it is to put a meal together for children who don’t eat a wide variety of foods. This becomes even more difficult when you try to make a meal at the last minute. With dinner running around, it usually seems easier to feed that “picky” eater whatever you know he will be eating. It is too much hassle and seems like a waste of time to bother with something they are not going to eat anyway. However, this can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy because serving children the same few foods will only increase their preference for those foods, or worse, they will burn out on them and eat even less variety.
The first step in enhancing the diversity of a picky eater is creating a game plan. It’s important to have a balance between foods your child likes and foods they may not like or have not tried. If you don’t have anything on your plate to eat, you can become anxious or overwhelmed and skip meals together. Finding that balance between challenging non-preferred foods and comfortable preferred foods can be challenging to say the least.
This is where meal planning comes in. If you need help getting started or a quick rundown, check out the basics of meal planning here. Natalie talks about how meal planning gives you the opportunity to add variety, and that’s the ultimate goal of a picky eater. Here are a few reasons these meal plans are such a valuable tool in helping the less willing participants.
How meal planning can help picky eaters
Ensuring a preferred meal. By planning meals, you can ensure that you have the comforting and familiar foods ready for your picky eater at every meal. As I mentioned earlier, this is key to the whole meal that doesn’t literally go down the drain. I would highly recommend that you sit down and make a list of all the foods your kids eat at least 50% of the time. Divide these foods into three categories: starches / carbohydrates, fruits / vegetables, and proteins. Most people are surprised how many foods are actually on the list. Now make sure that at least 1 of these is served with each meal.
Consistent exposure to new foods. Check out the foods on this list that you made from all of the foods they eat. Do you notice any patterns? Do you only eat crispy, soft, or white foods? Once you identify some of these patterns, you can start planning some meals that will gradually take you a little out of your comfort zone. With each meal you plan on, slowly make small changes to some of the foods you eat. For example, if you’ve noticed that your child appears to be avoiding something with a mushy texture but loves crunchy foods, try planning some meals with foods that have crispy outside and soft inside. It can all be a result of how you prepare the food.
Track the progress. Quickly make notes of how your kids reacted to a meal in your plan. It is important to have success with food as well. Some kids won’t even look at new foods, if yours first touched a green bean that’s a success! Having your meal plan as a picture can help you see the progress you’ve made and remind you to go back and try some foods that you’ve made progress with. Without this visual reminder, we often get stuck in the same old rut and cook the same things again.
Reduced stress. The organization and reduced stress that meal planning brings are even more important to the picky eater as parents of picky eaters tend to be stressed and disorganized when eating. Meal planning probably isn’t going to take all of the stress out now that you have to work on getting your child to eat some of these non-preferred foods, but it will help a lot. And the less stressed we as parents are during meals, the better our children will eat.
If you’re looking for more strategies to help your picky eater, read more about our strategies and recipes here.