12 Steps to Combat Picky Eating and Create Healthy Mealtime Habits

12 Steps to Combat Picky Eating and Create Healthy Mealtime Habits

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12 Steps to Combat Picky Eating and Create Healthy Mealtime Habits

Nothing sends me to Cranky Town faster than when my kids downright refuse to eat anything I’ve prepared.

I’ll have just spent an entire evening preparing a bunch of delicious food as I call my family to the table. My pride in rocking this new recipe is dashed as my kids devolve into tears and gagging noises, convinced I’m are trying to poison them.

Needless to say, I’ve struggled mightily to get my kids to eat healthy foods.

And it seemed like my efforts to get them to eat (e.g. “no dessert until you finish” or “5 more bites”) only seemed to keep the food battles raging.

So I started reading everything that I could and trying stuff out on my kids. Turns out, all that conventional wisdom (“you have to clear your plate before you leave the table!”) is entirely unhelpful for creating kids with healthy eating habits.

After some great books (this one was my absolute favorite), I found a much better way to tackle the meal-time troubles. As I eliminated the struggle and conflict from our meals, my kids automatically started to be more exploratory with foods and developed healthier habits. 

But I’m not alone in my struggles. 

Picky Eaters Are Everywhere

As many as 50% or kids, at least for a period of time, fall into the category of “picky eater”. As a parent, this is incredibly frustrating. You’re going to great pains in trying to nourish your offspring and instill healthy eating habits while your child wants to just eat fishy crackers and Doritos.

But you can create a healthy home and instill healthy eating habits–even in your pickiest eaters.

Here are 12 tips to help you do just that.

12 Steps to combat picky eating & create healthy mealtime habits

12 Steps to combat picky eating & create healthy mealtime habits

1) Get your husband on the same page.

Nothing will sabotage any new parenting endeavor then being undermined by the other parent. However, I’ve found that this is usually because I didn’t fully inform him of the new strategy I was trying.

Sit down with your partner and determine what kinds of foods you want to be eating and your plan of action. Sending mixed messages to your kids will just communicate that you aren’t serious. 

2) Involve your child

Ask your child what you should make. At the grocery store, have them help you pick out foods. Kids love picking out produce. Have them help you in the kitchen preparing the meal.

This was really helpful in our house. Involving my pickiest eater in the cooking process has not only been fun and bonding, but she’s now much more likely to eat something she helped prepare.

3) Never force kids to eat

Forcing kids to eat just ensures that kids will have negative associates with mealtime and the food you are forcing them to eat.

But taking all the fight, forcing, and negotiating out of your meals will make your child more comfortable and secure. When they’re more comfortable and secure they are more likely to eat the foods you offer.

But I know it’s so hard. When your kid is refusing to eat anything but Skittles, your first inclination is to dig in and win the battle (at least for me). Problem is the more you battle, the more your child resists. Resisting and refusing is how your child exerts control.

Which is why they start refusing foods they used to like!

This was especially true with my second daughter. Even mentioning that I was making dinner, she would start pouting and exclaiming that she didn’t like what I was making.Never mind that she wouldn’t actually know what I was making!

But because we battled and negotiated our way through meals in order to get healthy foods in her body, the mention of dinner geared her up for a fight.

When we changed our strategy (thanks to this amazing book that I highly recommend, It’s Not About the Broccoli), we stopped all forcing and negotiating. Instead, we provided lots of healthy food options and let her pick. At first, she ate a lot of rice. But with the pressure gone, over time my ultra-picky daughter began trying new things.

Ironically, her diet has improved immensely by turning the power over to her.

Forcing kids to eat just ensures that kids will have negative associates with mealtime and the food you are forcing them to eat.

12 Steps to combat picky eating & create healthy mealtime habits

4) Set a good example

Children are much more likely to do what you do and not what you say. Our children are walking testaments to our actions, not our words. This applies to how we eat as well.

I’ve also found that if I am eating anything around my kids, they will want to try some. From salads to smoothies packed with kale, if I’m eating and enjoying something, my kids want a piece of the action. And I’ve been really surprised by what my children will not only try, but end up really liking.  

5) Keep only healthy options around your house

If there aren’t unhealthy options littering your kitchen and pantry, then your child will have little else to beg for in place of the meal they’ve been presented.

For example, I never have juice or soda around the house and I only buy dense whole grain bread. They think white bread is candy. So all sandwiches or toast is made with heavy fiber and nutrient-packed bread. I try to keep all snack foods they healthiest options available.

6) Make meals fun

Making mealtime fun is will go a long way in having your associate healthy eating with positive emotions. If mealtimes are a always a battle, everyone is trained to get frustrated at dinner time!

Get your kids to help out, experiment with fun dips and sauces, and switch it up (like breakfast for dinner).

7) Don’t make a seperate meal

Making a seperate meal for your child–while it may keep the peace at dinner time–only ensures that picky and limited eating will continue.  When one of my kids outright refuse everything (rare), they are always welcome to have any raw vegtables, nuts or seeds, and sometime fruit. But no seperate meal.

8) Don’t bribe with dessert

This just teaches kids that healthy food is bad, but must be suffered through to get to the true reward: dessert. If dessert is the reward, then dessert is always the goal–not healthy eating habits.

I’ll admit that I tried this…a lot. And the result was that my children would constantly try and negotiate “how many bites” until they earned dessert. It wasn’t about eating until fullness. It was all about the dessert.

If your goal is to help your children enjoy healthy eating, bribing with dessert will not get you there. 

We eliminated dessert entirely for a while just to avoid any temptation to have dessert as a reward.

9) Introduce 1 new food at a time with foods they already like

I have found time and again that of I have 2-3 things I know my kids like at a meal and a third or fourth thing that they will try for the 1st time, they are much more likely to try the new thing than if I just try and give then a plate of full of new and strange food.

10) Offer fruits and vegetables with every snack and meal.

First off, if you want to get kids to eat healthy foods you have to offer it to them. A lot. Kid have to be exposed more than 10 times to a food before they may like it. That means the more your expose them, the faster they can develop a taste for these foods.

Secondly, if you are constantly offering fruits and veggies to your children it will help eliminate that urge to force them to eat vegetables at dinner because they haven’t eaten a plat all day. Knowing that they’ve had bites of healthy foods during the day can put your mind at ease and keep the food battle far from your house.

11) Stick to a Routine

Keep meals and snack times at roughly the same time everyday. If a child isn’t hungry for a meal or snack, then they should be hungry enough once the next one comes around.

12) Be consistent

Children’s brains are pattern seeking. If the pattern is that you enforce something new for a day or two and then forget about it, they pick that up quickly. But if you maintain consistency with your expectations and practices, they will pick that up and develop healthy eating habits.

For most people, healthy eating habits aren’t just going to manifest overnight. But through consistently encouraging healthy eating through these steps you can help your children try new foods, enjoy healthy eating, and create habits that will serve them for life. You can create a home of healthy eaters.

If you’re looking for additional reading, I highly recommend It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids For a Lifetime of Healthy Eating. It completely changed how my children eat. No more food battles and a lot of healthy eating. 

You’ve got this, mama.

7 Steps to Teaching a Child to Clean Their Own Bedroom

7 Steps to Teaching a Child to Clean Their Own Bedroom

This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience (which means that, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission)  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

7 Steps to Actually Teaching Kids to Clean Their Own Bedrooms

Let’s face it: sometimes you feel more like “the maid” than “the mom”. And while you want your kids to pick up after themselves, it feels pretty dang overwhelming most days when you are just trying to keep everyone alive. You’re tired and pressed for time so it’s faster to do it all yourself. 

But seriously, teaching a child to clean up doesn’t have to be complicated and time consuming. By taking some simple steps now to teach your children to clean their own room, you can teach responsibility and save yourself loads of time and energy.

Teaching a Child to Clean: Start young

If a child can play with toys and make a mess, a child is capable of learning to clean up.

Children truly are amazing little sponges. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly my 4 kids pick stuff up. Their little brains are incredible at picking up patterns and following them. If you teach them that you will always clean up their messes, they’ll learn that quickly. But if you teach them that they need to clean up after themselves, they’ll do it.

7 Steps Teaching Kids to Clean Their Bedrooms

Steps to Teach a Child to Clean Their Bedroom

1) Organize child’s room so that it’s easy for your child to clean up.

Before you really dig into teaching your child to clean their room, you want to make sure it’s organized properly. Take a good long look at your child’s bedroom and ask yourself:

  • Does everything have a clear place?
  • Is it easily accessible?
  • Is the organization uncomplicated?
  • How can I change the room to make it easier for my child to clean?

Organize your room so that it’s easy for your child to know where everything goes and it’s easy to put everything away.

Taping images on boxes, bins, and drawers can be very helpful in teaching kids where everything goes. I do this with my kid’s drawers and it has been a  game-changer.

To say my girls love clothes is a major understatement. Without exageration, it’s perfidy normal for any one of my 3 kids who dress themselves to change their clothes anywhere from 5-10 times a day on any given day. So clothing mess has been a formidable issue for us from the moment these girls started dressing themselves.

One day a few years ago, completely frustrated by the daily deluge of clothes on the bedroom floor, I snapped. I got some 3 x 5 notecards and drew pictures of the clothing items that go in each drawer and taped them on each of my children’s drawers.

It was nothing short of miraculous what happened. With a bit of direction, my clothes-loving girls actually started to put everything away in the correct place. If you don’t feel like drawing, I created a free printable of both boy and girl clothes drawer labels (you can download the labels by scrolling to the bottom of this post).Teaching a child to clean their bedroom

2) Clean along side your child, giving very specific instructions with lots of encouragement and praise.

Children are very visual and physical learners. Not only do we need to tell them what to do, we need to show them and lovingly guide them. While you model the correct behavior, explain to your child what you are doing and invite them to help giving very specific instructions.

EXAMPLES:

  • “Can you put the OBJECT in this PLACE? You did it! That was so helpful!”
  • “This is where we put the OBJECTS. Can you put that right in here? You are such a great helper. I love it!”

As you child learns, you can move away from the very specific directions to “Can you put all the dirty clothes in this basket?” as opposed to “can you put that shirt in the dirty clothes basket?”

Teaching a child to clean their bedroom

3) Set a routine for when you clean

Children crave routines that they can expect and predict. This is certainly true when teaching a child to clean. If you are consistent in your cleaning routine, not only will your children respond better, but–knowing that clean up is imminent–they will begin to clean before you ask them. Making it a routine they can expect will reduce the battles.

Since every home runs differently, this may look different to everyone. For some, it may be that you clean a room up completely before you leave it. That hasn’t worked well for us.

For us, the evenings seem to be the most effective time to clean. As part of their bedtime wind-down routine, the girls know that they are expected to have their room clean in order to get a story and a song every night (and they’d sooner cut off their own toe than miss the story and song). As it’s become more routine for them, they have become quick and efficient little cleaners!

4) Keep it positive and encouraging

The quickest way to sabotage a child’s attitude and the mood in your home is to be moody and negative. Be it potty training, school work, or what have you, when we start to get irritated and snarky with our kids, they will respond the same way or with tears.

Always give encouragement and praise for their efforts when teaching a child to clean. Praise and positivity go a really long way in helping to motivate a child. Helping them see how helpful they are and that what they do makes a difference will completely change their behavior.

A phrase we use (from parenting expert Dr. Becky Bailey) that has brought about miraculous attitude and behavior changes is:

“You (what your child did), so (the results). That was so helpful!”

EXAMPLES:

  • “You cleaned up all your clothes so you can find them. That was so helpful!”
  • “You put all your toys away so we won’t trip on them and your room can look nice. That was so helpful!”

I know it’s not always easy to stay positive when you are tired and overworked and the house is messy. But staying positive with kids yields magical results. When I am super positive and complimentary, my 4 and 5 year old can seriously make their room

5) Have consequences for failure to clean up

Natural consequences are best. Other than losing their story and a song at night, another strategy has also been very effective.  We put toys that have not been picked up when they were supposed to be picked up in “toy jail”. These items go in a big clear plastic container that lives in a high shelf in my closet and my kids have to do various chores to earn their toys back.

teaching a child to clean their bedroom

6) Have your child clean up gradually on their own, as you give instructions

As your child becomes more and more capable, give them more responsibility.

7) Be consistent, Be consistent, Be consistent

I know it’s not easy. Mom life is super hard. We have moments where we can’t care about much more than keeping our kids alive, let alone having children who clean up after themselves. I’ve been there. 

But if we are not consistent in our efforts and expectations, children will pick up that this is not important and not something they need to learn.

On the other hand, being consistent teaches our children that these expectations and responsibilities are here to stay and will be enforced.

Children’s brains are amazing at picking up patterns. If the pattern is that you won’t stay consistent, they will not comply. If the pattern is that they need to keep their room clean, they will! Stay strong, mama!

The struggle is worth it

I’m not going to lie, teaching my kids to clean up after themselves has been a struggle at times. Sometimes they have fought me vigorously and tested whether I will be consistent. But the struggle to teach a child to clean is worth it.  

These days, my kids are now amazing at cleaning up their rooms. And the excitement and sense of pride they have when they show me their immaculate room absolutely makes my heart sing.

You’ve got this. Good luck, mamas!

7 Steps Teaching Kids to Clean Their Bedrooms
7 Steps Teaching Kids to Clean Their Bedrooms

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