All too often I hear from other parents that their kids drive them crazy with their picky eating habits.
“My kid won’t eat anything but chicken nuggets and broccoli”
“My kid only eats foods that are white”
“I have to make 2 or 3 different meals a night”
In the spirit of full disclosure, those are statements that came out of MY mouth just a little over 2 years ago. My kids were horrible eaters. I would make a meal for them, and I would also make a meal for me. My marriage was crumbling around me and I had no control over anything, least of all meals. One of the problems with my marriage was that he and I were NEVER on the same page as far as parenting. He felt that we should never force the kids to eat something they didn’t like. I grew up in a household where you ate what was in front of you, or you went hungry. Plain and simple and I believe it works. When I tried to implement this philosophy, I got sabotaged at almost every turn. I gave up, as I did with most arguments, because it was just easier.
After I left my husband and moved in with Amy and Shane, we started working on getting my boys to eat healthfully and to eat, and enjoy, a wide variety of foods. Face it, living with a picky eater can be EXPENSIVE. Processed, refined and prepackaged foods cost a lot and are just full of preservatives and crap. We had a job ahead of us, that was for certain. Andrew and Aaron were diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive’ (reasons for which I won’t get into here), so we not only had to get them eating a variety, but we had to fatten them up, so to speak.
We started out my reducing the size of the plates we were serving to the kids. For dinner, instead of a full size dinner plate, they got a sandwich plate. We put a couple of good-sized tablespoons of each food on the small plate. They had to at least finish what was on that plate. If they didn’t finish, then they didn’t get any more to eat. If they did finish, they could ask for seconds…they didn’t have to have more of everything, just what they liked. Yes, we had wailing. Yes, we had kids going to bed a little hungry some nights. They would yell “I don’t like this!” Our prompt reply, “We didn’t ask if you liked it, we asked you to eat it”. We were incredibly firm and didn’t waiver. We were all on the same page. We never forced them to eat, we just left the decision to eat at all, to them. They soon learned that someone was not going to go rescue them with a peanut butter sandwich! It took a good 6 weeks before Andrew would even finish his first plate at dinner. It took at least 6 more for the boys to start asking for things that I never thought they would ask for! “Saucer Therapy” was a big hit.
There were other techniques that we tried too. We all ate dinner together at a designated meal time. We kept the amount of junk food in the house to a minimum. If they wanted ketchup on the pork loin roast, we let them have it (yes, that was gross). Repeating exposure to foods is a must…we read somewhere (I can’t find the link, ugh) that it takes about 10 times of trying a new food for a child to decide whether they like it or not. It was one of the most frustrating exercises that I have ever been through as a parent. With patience and consistency, our perseverance paid off.
I can say now that my kids love meal times. Dinner should not be a power struggle. We sit down and we rarely hear a complaint. Yes, there are foods that our kids don’t like. Andrew has some sensory issues and there are certain textures that he does not enjoy eating. Anything mashed, forget it…applesauce and pudding is a no-go. He does eat those things, but we don’t give him lots of it.
I can’t guarantee if this things will work for your picky eater, but it worked for our kids. Here’s a great article from the Mayo Clinic: Children’s nutrition: 10 tips for picky eaters