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So you have a picky eater?! ME TOO!
No, really. I would consider both my boys to be picky. Not as picky as they COULD be, but picky nonetheless. I consider it payback for when they were babies and ate everything. I got all smug. WELL NOT ANYMORE!
So picky eaters suck, can we all agree on that? So here’s what you do… get some duct tape, a shovel, and…kidding! I do have a few tips that work though, in case you’re interested. Warning, I am not a perfect parent, my kids are not perfect kids, and they do not have a failure to thrive or any medical conditions that I have to worry about in terms of nutrition. So these tips are for fairly typical kids beyond the baby stage. So let’s go with 2 and up. Oh, and I’m not one of those coddly parents. So if you are, tune out now. Sorrynotsorry. Welp, let’s get started, shall we?
Stop feeding them
No, not like ALTOGETHER, but just…stop feeding them all the time. You are not a 24/7 buffet. Let them come to you and ask for food, or have pre-approved snacks at their level. I offer 3 meals a day. I never offer snacks. Do my kids snack? Hell, yes! But they ask for it and if we’ll be eating a meal within 30-45 minutes the answer is no. It’s ok for kids to get hungry. I also never bring snacks out with us anymore unless we’re out for the whole day. It is GLORIOUS! Chances are if you’re reading this, you know where you’re next meal is coming from (let’s count our blessings there y’all). So if you know what little Timmy is having for dinner, and he hasn’t asked for food since lunch, let it go. Maybe he’ll actually eat his dinner! My kids have figured out the caveat to this one though… if they ask for fruits or vegetables I pretty much always say yes. My 3-year-old is ALWAYS hungry before dinner. So he’ll ask what I’m making, and if it’s not something he likes, he asks for a banana. I have since caught on and limit him to ONE banana now. Live and learn.
Like minuscule. I will put a penny size serving of something new on the plate, a quarter size of something they’ve seen before, maybe tried, but don’t eat readily, and a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of tried and true foods. Yes, it’s a ridiculously small amount of food, but it’s less invasive to them, and I have a higher chance of success. Plus, less food waste. This goes along with the whole ‘ the parent chooses: when, where, and what. The child chooses if and how much’ theory. My kids will always ask for more if they want more. And it makes it less stressful for everyone. Trust me, people, they eat plenty, so don’t worry that I’m starving them.
Be a Robot
As in, show no emotion. They don’t want to eat your beautiful meal? Fine. Do they eat 7 servings of broccoli? Fine. We have such an unhealthy relationship with food in this country, and we DO NOT need another generation linking what they do, and do not, eat to their self-esteem and parental approval. Just LET IT GO. Food is simply a way to nourish our bodies, not a way to make mommy love you more. Again, I am NOT perfect, and I know it can be frustrating, but remember it takes an AVERAGE of 8-15 exposures before they’ll even taste something new at the preschool age. Just be patient. Be a robot. Beep Boop.
One Family, One Meal
I cook ONE dinner. We eat as a family every night, which has its own benefits, but we all eat THE SAME THING. Even my husband, who is also a picky eater, agrees with me on this. For my kids, lunch tends to be the biggest meal of the day, so dinner is usually a top-off for the day. Meaning, I don’t stress, I make what I WANT to make. It’s my meal to introduce new foods! With the tiny portions I serve them, my robotic response, and the fact that they know I won’t cave, they have a tendency to at least TRY the food. If they don’t they can have a slice of whole wheat bread and 5-10 baby carrots. Yes, I am THAT mean. Once dinner is complete, the kitchen is CLOSED y’all! No one eats anything else. That is it. DONE. FINITO! (Ok maybe WE eat after they go to bed, but for the sake of the kids… the kitchen closes after dinner.) Yes, there are some days my kids refuse to try anything, and won’t go for the bland alternative, so they go to bed without eating. Such is life. (If you can’t do dinner as a family, try breakfast. Or a snack. ANYTHING!)
Break the Mold
Don’t make them clear their plate. Don’t make them eat when they aren’t actually hungry. Try not to reward them with food. Definitely don’t punish them with food. Serve carrots and broccoli for breakfast if that’s what they ask for (This has LEGIT happened in our house!) Food is food. And like I stated before, a healthy relationship with it is hard to come by. Kids eat when they are hungry, they stop when they are full. They will try new foods when they are ready and will eat them if they enjoy them. Don’t help them lose those abilities any faster than addictive junk foods will.
Talk about it
This one sucks if you are also a picky eater yourself. But TALK to your kids (yes even at 2) about what is healthy and what isn’t. It can be as simple as ‘sugar makes you happy, but doesn’t help you grow’. My older son will often ask ‘is this healthy?’ and then we talk about it. Because I am diabetic/ celiac (and he has the genes) we tend to get a little into the weeds here, but we talk about it. He knows what carbs are, what refined sugar is, and why he needs fruits and veggies. The 3-year-old too, but to a simplified extent. If you don’t know, then this is your chance to learn. When you lead by example, the greatest effects will be seen. I know that’s not what some people want to hear…but… it’s the truth.
Bridge the Gap
Kids are shitty eaters. Especially in our sugar-laden, fat-loving, overly processed, and highly engineered food world. Do YOU want to eat raw broccoli as a snack? No? Then you aren’t really hungry. But you also have tasted what’s out there, and your brain has officially been turned on to food. Food is addicting, and it’s the last frontier for socially acceptable self-medication. We need 7-13 servings of fresh fruits and veggies every day, and essentially none of us (outside the commune) get that. So what can we do? Lemme share my little secret: Juice Plus. I take it for a variety of reasons, but my kids take it because they’re shitty eaters. Like most preschool/kindergarten age kids. Bonus! They get it free. It’s thoroughly researched, safe, and PROVEN. Not only do my kids ingest 30+ fruits and veggies every day, but they also get sick less, make healthier choices all on their own, and have a deeper understanding of what ‘healthy’ means.
Picky eaters are OBNOXIOUS. I hate it when my kids turn up their noses at a meal I worked hard on. Or when they refuse to eat anything green for no apparent reason. BUT, I know they are getting what they need day in day out thanks to Juice Plus. And I know that I am not fueling any negative eating behaviors. Well, not TOO badly anyway. Do they still eat like shit somedays? YUP. But they also ask for apples, carrots, broccoli, and water. They aren’t sick all the time, don’t eat when they’re bored, and they will, eventually, try the random things I put on their plates. Plus they are learning, bit by bit, what ‘healthy’ means.