Patio Picnics for Picky Eaters

Apr 23, 2013 by

No pains should be spared to make the hours of meeting round the family table the brightest hours of the day.”  —  Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) in Home Education

If you have a picky eater, take her on a picnic. Eating outdoors is just one great way to reduce the pressure and make the dinner table experience more enjoyable, in order to get kids more interested in eating.

For once, improving our lives doesn’t require misery! We need not always increase the pressure or muster up will power, hard work and self-denial. In this case, those are the most counter-productive actions to take.

If you have a picky eater, instead look for ways to create a more pleasant atmosphere at the table. Where pressure and ugliness isn’t getting you anywhere and is probably making the situation worse—not to mention damaging your relationship with your child—a picnic is better at whetting your child’s appetite and eroding her resistance.

“Meals taken al fresco [outdoors] are usually joyous,” writes educational philosopher Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) in Home Education, “and there is nothing like gladness for converting meat and drink into healthy blood and tissue. All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood.”

Sounds like good advice for any family, picky eater or no. But for a picky eater, feeling less pressured is an essential step to becoming more open-minded about food.

Even a backyard picnic is fun, and this good fun is a good thing. Mason, who advises getting kids outside as much as six hours a day, tells us that digestion is affected by our emotions: “Gastric juices are only secreted freely when the mind is in a cheerful and contented frame.”

It may take just a little planning and doing, but it’s a great investment. Last year, we bought a cheap patio dining  set at Target and found a half-price patio umbrella at Lowe’s. Worth every penny. Meals are so appealing under the muted shade of that umbrella. It’s so lovely and relaxing for everyone to eat outside anytime the weather is halfway decent.

Sound too simple to do much good? It may not seem drastic enough of a cure to cure your picky eater. In fact, it’s just one concrete example of my no-pressure approach to better eating. It’s just one move toward normality. It’s a picture of a completely different way of thinking on getting kids to eat well. But it’s a good start, to see how taking off the pressure can reduce a picky eater’s resistance.

5 pressure-reducing ways to improve your child’s picky eating by improving the dinner table atmosphere

1. Eat outdoors. Ideally, give your child time for some high-energy outdoor play before the meal. “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without,” writes Charlotte Mason.

2. Presentation: It doesn’t cost anything extra to set a lovely table and make your meal more alluring. It’s not hard to make even everyday meals feel a little special. Maybe get out your prettiest dishes, even light a candle, or put out some flowers. And everything seems to look even better outdoors under a patio umbrella.

3. Enforce a rule of only pleasant table conversation in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Outlaw complaining, insults and unkindness at the table. Instead, model compliments, gratitude and positive attitudes during meals (and maybe beyond). Keep things normal, even if your child’s eating is not. Allowing disagreeable conversation won’t help anybody eat better, but will keep everybody from getting much good out of the meal.

4. Quit over-controlling your child’s eating. We all resist being controlled and pressured. Who doesn’t look for reasons not to do what someone else is bugging us about, especially if it’s something we can do for ourselves, and need only do for ourselves. Allow everyone to serve themselves from among the dishes on the table. Freedom to choose from the good choices offered improves the appetite. Don’t believe me? Try it on your kids.

5. Create your own meal rituals. You might open your meals with a prayer of thanks, or saying “bon appetit” as the French do. Make it a social time, not a filling station.