If you have a picky eater, you know all about the frustrations it can bring--especially at the dinner table. As a dietitian, I've talked to many moms who are near the end of their ropes. To make matters worse, there's another layer of frustration for many parents because they don't see eye to eye with their partner on how to handle their child's eating.
In our house, we've certainly had our fair share of dinner table trials too, including my son's prolonged dinner strike when he was a toddler. There are still things that come up around eating that cause us worry or frustration. The truth is, my husband and I aren't always on the same page about what to do. He grew up cleaning his plate. I was never pressured to try anything or eat a certain amount. We both want the best for our kids, but we have to be a united front if we're going to be successful. Here's what we do that helps:
1. We talk about our real worries. We all know that three more bites of peas aren't going to make a big difference in the long run, so why does picky eating bring out so many big emotions? For me, my fear is that my kids will become the kind of picky eater I was. My husband's fear is that my boys won't get enough calories needed to grow to their full potential. Talking about that helps us better understand each other's motivations and perspectives.
2. We keep debate away from the dinner table. Any discussions about how to handle our kids' eating are private and happen away from the table. The dinner table should be a relaxed and welcoming place for kids, not a space where they feel pressured or where their parents argue about what or how much they're eating. My husband and I may exchange a look or two at the table, but we save the debate for later.
3. We compromise. My husband occasionally worries that my approach is too hands-off in letting the kids decide what and how much they eat at mealtime. I occasionally worry that my husband is more focused on getting food on their plates than the quality of those calories. So we try to compromise. He holds his tongue at the table when he wishes the kids were eating more, and I hold my tongue when I'm away for dinner and they feast on pizza and wings.
4. We set good examples. Multiple moms have told me their husbands complain about what they've cooked--or even worse, get up from the table to make themselves something else! In our house, we split dinnertime duties (I cook, he cleans) and he never says anything negative about the meal. Even when it's something new (or even something he's not wild about), he sets a good example for the kids by not only eating it, but also thanking me for making it. Be sure you and your partner are acting the way you want your kids to be acting at the table.
If your child is an extreme picky eater—eating a very limited diet, frequently becoming anxious or upset around food—all of this can be even more difficult. Here's some advice from the authors of the book Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating about working with your spouse to better help your child.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author ofThe Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light onDinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her onFacebook, Twitter, Pinterest, andInstagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.