Last night I was at football practice listening to parents lament about their kiddo’s eating habits. Oh yes, this is something we can all relate to. If you can’t, you have some miracle parenting method that I really need to soak in!
We all face the picky eater issues to some degree. Sometimes that’s a toddler testing independence, a kiddo with texture issues or even a child who has never developed a palette for anything other than chicken nuggets and macaroni.
I always say I ruined my first kid, then I figured it out from there. Because I’d not ever learned how to eat correctly, I had no way how to feed him. To make matters worse, he had a gag reflex, made worse by the tool they gave me to feed him because of the reflex. Now I know it made things worse, but I just didn’t know then.
I fed my first kiddo Nutrigrain bars. I don’t really remember what else, but that was probably as nutritious as it got. As for texture issues, he would vomit spaghetti and other foods his mouth couldn’t handle.
As for my other kids, I literally just cooked down or blended whatever we ate and gave it to them. By the third kid, I had it down. Her first foods were avocado and eggs and she still drinks a shake everyday.
The road has been long. I don’t want to tell you all of my woes but I do want to tell you picky eaters can definitely be CAUSED by us parents and fortunately, they can also be REMEDIED by us parents. Today Zach eats eggs and oatmeal for breakfast and his favorite vegetable is raw spinach. He’s not perfect, but we have made great strides in his future. My goal is for my kiddos to leave my house with healthy eating habits so they don’t have the health issues or learning crisis I had as a grown woman.
Here are some strategies I’ve used and I recommend to you if you have similar goals:
The first strategy to help your picky eater is to reduce portions. We often put so much more food on their plates than they can or even should eat. They’re little people. With little bellies. Start with really small portions for the kiddos because it will seem less daunting to them as they look at their plates. I’m talking like two green beans. Then you can easily celebrate success because it might be one or two bites you have to get through. And you better celebrate. I mean, make this the biggest deal in the history of the world. Then maybe next time they’ll eat three green beans. Gains. We’re all about the incredibly slow, microscopic gains.
The second strategy is that choices empower. When it comes to your picky eater, you can give them choices. A while ago I wanted all of the kids to try cherry tomatoes. To be fair, their dad doesn’t even like them. I wasn’t expecting much. I gave my son the choice of trying one tomato for dinner or ten pieces of spinach. Do you believe he chose a huge handful of spinach over the one tomato? I can. With this strategy he still gets nutrition (it wasn’t one tomato or candy) but he feels a little more in control. Control is a key factor with picky eaters. I let my kids pick their choices in their lunches. I control what they can choose from, they get to choose. Would you believe my son now chooses spinach every time as his lunch veggie? This is the kid who hadn’t even tasted a raw vegetable until he was 3 or 4 years old.
To eat or not to eat.
Another variation of this strategy is to allow your kiddos to choose whether to eat or not. You see, for so many of us meal times can become a nightmare. We are either making a million different foods or begging people to eat the food in front of them. It can be so draining. And we want meal time to be nice. I’ve given you some overall strategies for kiddos above like ensuring there is always something they like on the table, something worth fighting for. For your picky eaters, you should also consider allowing them to choose not to eat. Also, let them choose how much to eat. Consider allowing them to dish it out on their plates themselves. Then, sit back and ignore their choices. Choose not to engage in coaxing, nagging or arguing or any of it. I’m here to tell you you cannot out stubborn a picky eater, or at least not without unneeded consequences. Science shows it typically makes matters worse anyway.
Instead, serve it and let it go. Just ask about their day and get about the business of enjoying meal time, regardless of their choices. If they choose to go hungry, that’s their choice. Most mealtimes will offer something they will eat so they probably won’t starve. But if they do, they do. They’ve made the choice not to eat. Empowering them also means allowing them to feel the consequences of their choices. Your job is to give them the choice and then leave it alone.
The kitchen is closed.
The third strategy is to close the kitchen and it’s probably the one that can make the biggest difference in our lives. Stop allowing kids to eat all day. Most kids don’t eat because they are not hungry. They’ve been snacking. ALL DAY. You’ll be amazed at how this simple trick can change your picky eater’s habits. Also, don’t offer any other options for dinner or after dinner. They will learn. And no, they will not starve. You also win in this situation because you can be done with food battles in between meal times. That includes dishes. Yay!
Repitition is okay.
Fourth, I want you to be okay with repetition. If you can only get your picky eater to eat a few healthy things, that’s fine. Celebrate the win and understand that their palettes will eventually change. As they continue eating healthy, their taste buds will adapt to desire (or at least not hate) more healthy things. Remember how many times they watched that one show or wanted you to read them that one book? Kids are all about repetition, so use it as a tool in your toolbox.
Lead the way.
Finally, lead the way. One study showed the variety of fruits and vegetables purchased by the parents directly correlated to the amount the children ate. In 2005 researchers showed that kiddos were more likely to try something new if they saw an adult eating it first. This strategy also means eating as a family.
So, what do you think? Do you think any of these strategies can help you?