Mindset Shifts For Picky Eating

Mindset Shifts For Picky Eating

Posted on May 25, 2023. Last updated on September 27, 2023
Alyssa a registered dietitian
Written by Alyssa

How Your Mindset May Be Affecting Your Child’s Eating Habits

One day, back when my son was in daycare regularly, I’d come to pick him up and watch him a few minutes before going in. I saw him putting his toys away and climbing the stool to wash his hands, able to dispense his own soap and turn the water on and off. I was awestruck! He wasn’t doing them at home and I didn’t understand why. The next time he needed to wash his hands I caught myself as I fetched the stool for him. I was the one preventing him from learning how to do it on his own. I didn’t know what he was capable of because I never gave him a chance to show me.

Sometimes, when we feel like we’ve tried everything we can to help our picky eater, the truth may be that you just need to get out of your own way. You’ve got to take your foot off the brake to keep moving forward. Making these three big mindset shifts may be the key to finally helping your picky eater once and for all.

You don’t really know how hungry they are

As parents, we can read our kids better than anyone else. We are so in tune with them and learn their little cues that express their needs. It can feel that we know them so well that of course, we would know how hungry they are. But that simply isn’t possible. We may think we can read their cues or tune into their habits well enough to know how they feel, but we aren’t inside their bodies. 

You may be able to identify when they’re super hangry, but how do you react when they tell you they’re full after a single bite? Do you accept that answer or do you feel you know better like there’s no way they’re full after one bite? Do you employ pressure techniques like bribing or begging to convince them to eat more?

Once we recognize that we can’t feel their level of hunger, we give that power back to them. From there, we can help educate them on understanding the cues their bodies are giving them, and over time they will begin to trust it more and more; like when they’ve eaten too much or too little, had too much sugar, etc.

The earlier we can communicate to them how to express their needs and understand their body’s cues, the better.

Acknowledge your expectations

When you meet your child at the table, do you walk into it with an expectation of how much they should eat, what foods they consume, or how long it should take them? Setting too high expectations will only set you both up for failure. 

When there is a gap between our expectations and our child’s “performance” at the table, we think we have to work them up to the expectation, often using pressure techniques to get them there. While it may work in the moment, over time it will lose its effectiveness and you’ll dig yourself into a deeper hole.

Shift your mindset to start recognizing the expectations you have and lowering them to a more realistic level. We’ll never be able to release all our expectations, but if you can realize when they’re too high and adjust, it can help let them feel more prepared for meal times. Instead of coming to the table with a feeling of predestined failure and being overwhelmed, they can approach it calmly and confidently.

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Let go of how you were raised

Our experiences as children come up frequently as parents and our actions at the table are no different. Reflect on how you were raised and whether you are bringing those experiences to the table with your own children. In our Table Talk group, I often hear, “Well I was raised having to finish my plate” or “There are starving kids in Africa” or they were reprimanded, punished, or rewarded. 

Having kids brings up a lot of stuff as parents and when something happens, that problem feels immediate. When we aren’t sure how to address it, we often pull from our personal experiences as children instead of taking the time to navigate the possible solutions and choose the right one for that moment. Or maybe you had such a traumatic childhood experience that you have swung to the complete opposite side. Either way, you are making a decision for your child based on your personal experience.

Think about the challenge you’re facing and find different options and tools to keep in your tool belt so you can find a solution that aligns with the type of parent you want to be and the type of person you want to raise.

We grow independent eaters by being intentional with our words and actions and being consistent. Remember that you and your child are completely different people and what worked (or didn’t work) with you likely won’t work with them. 

Finding the right tools for the problem at hand can be difficult. My Table Talk Course is a self-paced picky eating course that will give you a toolbelt full of strategies to employ during your picky eating journey. We focus on mindset and high-level ideas as well as the nitty-gritty details of dealing with certain situations so that when they come up, you have a plethora of options to find the one that works for you.

When you can shift your mindset and learn to trust your child, let go of your expectations, and release your childhood experiences, you are setting your child up to be more successful at the table.

Alyssa Miller picky eating dietitian
Hi there! My name is Alyssa

I'm a registered dietitian and picky eating specialist with nearly a decade of experience, mom of three, and the founder of Nutrition for Littles. I'm dedicated to making mealtimes enjoyable and nutritious for families.

Do you need more help with your picky eater? I want to invite you to my free class to reverse picky eating!

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