Picky Eater Solutions
Regardless of how long it may seem that your child has been lingering in the world of “picky eaters,” it will get better. As adults, we have eating preferences, but I’ve never met an adult who only ate mac and cheese. Dinnertime used to be my most dreaded time of the day; simply because I felt I had become a short-order cook. Everyone ate something different, and a 30-minute meal took nearly an hour to prepare to accommodate all five of us. Today, I’m going to give you some practical tips that have worked for my family and many others. Regardless of what type of picky eater you have (texture, color, or flat-out refuses to try anything new), you must remember to not give up and that consistency is key. Now, if we could all get a note like this one!
- Feed your child when he is hungry. If you want to shoot for a 6 o’clock dinner time, don’t give your child a “light snack” at 4:30 pm. My grandmother always said that kids eat when they are hungry, and if they know a light snack is coming to hold them over, the likelihood of them eating dinner (especially something that may not be their favorite) is slim to none. My kids get a light snack when I pick them up from school and nothing else until dinnertime. I have found this to work over time, and they eventually learned to not ask for a snack at 5:15 pm. It’s important to mention that your kids will give you hunger queues, such as lingering around the kitchen, asking for snacks, or getting very whiny.
- Stick to a routine. I hear many parents complain about their evenings being activity filled, and dinnertime is chaotic and never at the same time. My answer: You either tackle your activities or your picky eater. A mom can only do so many things at one time. It’s that simple. Evening activities are non-negotiable at my house; it’s family dinner and evening routine. While I respect my friends who have all sorts of sport practices because that’s what they are choosing to do, I remind them that dragging the 3-year-old to everything and expecting to help her “get less picky” just won’t work. You have to choose your battles.
- Be patient with new foods. You serve your child something that looks great and tastes really good, but he refuses to eat it. Or, it could be a small side of corn you are introducing. Still no luck. Should you serve it again? Yes. Keep at it. One day, he may try it and like it. Sometimes, you might only get two bites, and they decide that they’ve had enough. That’s okay too. Praise, praise, praise. Two is better than zero.
- Make it fun. Serve broccoli or other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce (for my daughter, it’s ketchup or ranch). Some days, she eats one bite; other days, the carrots are gone. At least she tried.
- Give them options, but not too many. “Tonight we have broccoli or green peas. Which one are you going to eat?” This way, your child has some control over their environment (a big part of why kids are picky eaters), and they are eating something good for them the same time. My daughter does not eat fruit (seriously), so I either sneak it in or say that today’s snack is a smoothie. What color would she like her smoothie to be?
- Recruit their help. Getting kids involved doesn’t always mean in the kitchen. At the grocery, divide up the fruits and vegetables, and tell them that they each get to pick one fruit, one vegetable. They chose it, so there is not excuse not to eat it! My friend is lucky enough to not bring her kids to the store, so she has made up note cards of fruits and veggies, and each child selects one of each before she leaves. She adds their selection to the list.
- Start out slowly. My son has an issue with textures and won’t eat eggs (in any shape or form), so I make him French toast on our breakfast-for-dinner nights. Yesterday, he took TWO bites of scrambled eggs, then he had enough. I told him he did a great job with the two bites, and I moved on to something else.
- Make some adjustments. Monday, we all had red beans and rice for dinner. Again, I pulled out my handy chopper, and it became red bean dip. I sprinkled some cheese and served it with a couple of chips. They nearly ate the whole plate. As red beans and rice? No luck. With chili, it started out as chili dip; now it’s served from the pot.
- Set boundaries and food rules. Children are expert manipulators. For the longest time, they whined and cried for my husband to feed them, sit between them—you name it, they tried to pull it off. With me? No luck. I often start dinner before my husband gets home from work and have them sit with a treat while we eat. This way, they are still in the family “dinnertime” routine, but I can actually enjoy my food warm because I’m no longer feeding, cleaning up after, or encouraging my child to eat. We set a three-bite rule before they can say “no” to an item. Oftentimes, they have devoured the entire plate.
- Stay positive. This last one is perhaps the most difficult for a busy parent. At the end of the day, we oftentimes feel spent and running on reserve power. My friend Michelle says “nothing a glass of vino can’t handle.” I love that attitude. It reminds me that much of good parenting is about being encouraging, nurturing, and being flexible. You can do it!
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