Hey there friends,
I could’ve titled this this post the best ways to to get your picky eaters eating, but there are no “best ways” for the picky eater right?….exactly, because they’re picky! Lol. Instead, these are my own tried, proven and tested approaches for picky eaters. My first-born was the most finicky eater of all my kids, some of it was his nature but I may have also, naively, nurtured it by being the doting, pleasing new mom so afraid that if he didn’t eat what I gave him that he would starve. Catering to his every need was exhausting. I then became a tad wiser, more confident mom when kids 2 and 3 came along, so I didn’t have the same struggles with them. So, if you’ve got a picky eater, let’s just try some things and see what works. Here are my tips and tricks for parents with picky eaters.
Are Picky Eaters Born or Bred?
If you have a truly picky eater this just might be a sensitive topic for you, and I’m quite sure you’ve gotten your fair share of unsolicited advice, but here’s my two pence from my own experience. I think picky eaters are born, others may be bred, more often a little bit of both. What I mean by this is, hey, we all like what we like and because we’re uniquely and wonderfully made, we’re born with innate preferences. We may also be influenced in utero by our mommy’s diet; my three kids general food preferences mimic some of the habits (good or bad) that I had when I was pregnant with each. As far as the nurturing is concerned, I contributed to my first son’s finicky eating by responding too hastily to his dislike of something. For example, if I gave him boiled eggs and he refused it, I would immediately assume, “well, I guess he doesn’t like boiled eggs”, then I’d move on to fried eggs or something. Instead, research actually says that a child may need to be exposed to a food 10 or 15 times before they eat it. I’ve seen that happen in my household, I keep putting a little bit of certain food on the plate and eventually a child may decide to try it out. Siblings sometimes help but can also hinder picky eaters too. My youngest used to eat rice and peas (a Jamaican Sunday dinner staple) happily but he’s more aware now and sees one of his brothers isolating his peas from his rice, now he no longer wants to eat his peas. Ah well, you win some you lose some. That’s my two pence. Enough “psychology”, let’s get to the tips already!
We’re all Picky!
Everyone’s picky, so don’t sweat the small stuff!
1.Teach Them About Health & Nutrition
Food shouldn’t be a mystery to kids. Especially the kids of today who will have, increasingly, more and more access to information. Tell them why eating their carrots, or leafy greens or drinking their infusions, is good for them. Tell them why too much sugar laden foods are not the best. At our house, we are not perfectly healthy eaters by any means, I do a fair amount of baking and other home made goods but we surely do store bought and we definitely enjoy a good birthday cake or holiday dessert. As I gain more health information for myself, I share it with my family; it may seem simplistic but in a way, its part of the legacy of knowledge that I want them to have. To understand health and nutrition to help them make informed decisions when they’re adults.
2. Let Them Pick a Favorite
I ask my kids to pick a favorite nut, bean, pea, greens etc. This doesn’t mean their meals are a-la-carte but the end game is to empower them to make their own healthy choices as they grow. Sometimes, at mealtimes a kid may switch out their meat protein with a nut of their choice. (That also makes it easier on us mamas…no more “you better eat this chicken or else!”)
3. Let Them Play with Their Food
Play around with the food a little bit, try some new things. When my niece visited with us this past summer, she helped my boys eat their spinach. She did a spinach wrapped strawberry! It caught on quickly. I used this “play with food” method more when I had just one kid, but sometimes I still find time to sneak in a bit of fun. Making faces on pancakes with fruit, using veggies to make “art” on their plate. Cut the sandwiches into shapes using a cookie cutter (don’t forget to save the discarded edges to make breadcrumbs for next week’s meatball recipe :)). Foods on a stick is always a big hit and here are some more fun ideas.
4. Set a Good Example
Be a good model for your kids. If you’re super picky they might pick up (pun intended) on that and borrow some of your finicky vibe. Be adventurous with food! When you go out to eat, try something new! Just do it!
5. Take Them to Costco!
LOL! I bet you didn’t see that one coming, did ya? Why am I plugging Costco? I could say it’s because I just love me some Costco, which incidentally, I most certainly do!!! Alas, the real reason is for their FREE samples! Costco confession: I usually (and deliberately) take them to Costco before they’ve had lunch. I’ll tell you what, they’ll be good n’ full before we check out! Sometimes still eating while we’re navigating the check out!! Ha, ha. They love it there and I’ve had success with my kids trying free foods, and eventually buying, that I never thought they would like.
6. Be Patient
Babies and young kids have more taste bud receptors on their tongue than adults.
“Babies have many more of these taste buds than an adult, and they have these almost everywhere in the mouth, including the cheeks. Perhaps it is for this reason that adults enjoy more flavors than babies, who dislike bitter tastes and prefer bland food. The average adult has about 9,000 taste buds on each surface of the tongue, roof of the mouth, and throat.” -InnerBody.com
The above reasoning is probably why my oldest’s favorite food when he was younger was oatmeal anything!! I mean I can’t even bring myself to tell you the things I’ve put in oatmeal (turkey, chicken, tofu, eggs….yes eggs and other foods that shall remain nameless). If it was commingled with oatmeal he would eat it. Let’s fast forward a few years, this kid is asking for mussels and shrimp and had his first beef burger for his 7th birthday! Be just as patient as you’re being consistent with offering a variety of foods, their tastebuds will adjust and they’ll come around.
7. Have a Plan B
It’s always easier to have a back-up meal, something that you know they will eat no matter what. Keep it simple, it could even be hot dogs if you wish. At our house, it’s oatmeal, quick and easy, sure thing.
8. Plant It, Grow It, Eat It
It’s a fascinating thing for kids to see their food growing. Tomatoes, basil, bell peppers, they can’t help but to be curious about its taste. I’ve only managed to grow some herbs at home but even that has been helpful in exposing them to trying new foods. They love a hint of fresh basil in their green smoothies. We love the science of how food grows so when we do a garden we usually start from scratch. Takes a while longer, but we get to observe the life cycle of our food, which is pretty neat. Short on time? Then pick up some up at the home and garden store or supermarket. Either way, you’ll be tending to it so they’ll get the benefit of watching it sprout new leaves and bear its “fruit”.
9. Try Different Textures
I always tell my boys that rather than say they don’t like something outright, it’s more accurate to say they may like it prepared another way. Case in point, they may not like to eat raw spinach but they have no objections when its married with some type of liquid in a smooth drink. I mash black beans or guango peas and put them in waffles or breakfast muffins. Our homemade waffles are frequently in cahoots with the peas and beans at our house! (Waffle recipe coming soon.)
10. Let Them Help in the Kitchen
I have a child who eats raw bell peppers as a delightful snack! Shocker! I have another kid who wants raw onions (and turkey bacon) on everything! And yet another who loves raw escallion garnishes. I think they developed a taste for these raw foods because they always ask for a taste of this or that when we’re prepping food. They even have their own little cutting boards that I picked up at the dollar store.
11. Put It on the Plate, Anyway
I remember when I used to watch the Food Network a lot, a chef, I think it was Melissa D’Arabia said just put it on their plate with zero expectations ’cause ya never know! Solid advice. Give them a meal they like and just add a little something on the side to see if they’ll go for it. No pressure. A slice of tomato, a piece of broccoli, whatever.
Our kids, no matter their age, can pick up on our non verbal cues more than we realize so don’t be tempted to hover when they’re eating a new food or eating more than you expected. I know if you see them chowing down on something that you’ve been trying to get them to eat for weeks or months, you probably want to do the happy dance right then and there,….resist the urge!!!! Be as nonchalant as possible. Jus’ chill. 🙂
13. Praise Them But….
Praise them appropriately but don’t over do it and help them to remember that eating is for their own health, not for you, their mommy, to feel good. With our boys, we say things like “you had all your spinach, you’re going to grow tall and strong” or “that chicken must have been yummy for your tummy, tomorrow you’ll have some new muscles”. Emphasis on them hence the words “you/you’re/your”. Definitely, don’t say things like, “you did a good job for mommy eating those veggies”, for example.
14. Eat Together
It’s not always possible for us to have all our meals together because my husband works odd hours. But when we do all sit down together for either breakfast or dinner and especially when I serve the food “buffet style”, the kids have an opportunity to try a new food. With buffet style, they have the choice to select the foods that go on their own plate; that may help them feel more “in control”. They also see us, the adults, eating pretty much everything laid out on the table, so we’re modeling good eating habits. Tips for success with buffet style; serve a balance of foods they do eat, but try and add a new food whenever possible. The extra bonus, family meal times help to teach or reinforce proper table manners and dining etiquette. A necessary life skill.
15. Veggie Tip
I heard this on the radio, just this week while I was preparing this blog post. So they say recent studies show that if you pair veggies with food the kids don’t like (let’s say, I don’t know, perhaps…liver!!!) the child will eat the veggies because they surely ain’t gonna eat no liver, right??!! I thought that was hilarious. It’s worth a try if your child vexes when it’s veggie time. Lol. I don’t know about you but I loved liver as a child, and even now, I just don’t eat it as much because we don’t prepare a lot of meat at our house.
16. Don’t Worry
If you’ve got a really picky eater and are inclined to worry, don’t. Why, because that’s not good for you or your child, instead, put it to prayer! God cares about every single minutae of our lives, mama. While you’re doing some practical things to encourage health eating habits, keep lifting your child in prayer. I know it sounds cliche, but prayer works for EVER-eee-THANG!
17. If All Else Fails… Sneak It In
There is no shame in your game if you become a little more stealth in your food prep. And unless your kiddo asks you what’s in the food every time they eat, then it doesn’t matter that they don’t know as long as their enjoying it! Just don’t act suspicious when you’re giving it to them…you know these kiddos are like little behavioral psychologists, if you twitch a brow or stutter, they may get suspicious! Lol. There are a number of good books out there that cover this topic in its entirety, Deceptively Delicious and Sneaky Chef are two good ones, buy them here or check them out at the library.
18. Dessert Dilemma
At our house, the kids know if you don’t eat dinner, then no dessert. My Lil Asparagus (3yrs old) learnt that lesson the hard way the other night, he thought he was going to get over on his dad. His dad made it clear, if you don’t eat all your dinner, then no dessert (daddy’s usually in charge of dessert around here). He didn’t finish dinner, came to ask for dessert, (several times), with his best puppy dog eyes, quivering lip, close to tears and all, but alas, it was a no go. So you know what happened the next evening, right??? He ate all his dinner and confidently asked for his dessert! Daddy was equally happy to give it to him. 🙂
19. Use A Timer
Now, this is not a trick that I would necessarily use for the “textbook” picky eater but it surely can be used, with success, for that kid that just takes FOREVER to eat for no apparent reason. I haven’t used this trick in a while but I used to set a timer for my Rocket Scientist and their would be a consequence if he didn’t finish eating before the timer went off. Now, before you say “what kind of mom does that!!?” Let me explain. He can still finish his meal even after the timer goes off, but, it means he gets less Lego building time, or less Kindle time, something like that. And let me tell you, when I used this trick, it worked like a charm!! The timer helped him to stay focused on eating (and not talking or being distracted) because it was important to him to not lose his previously earned rewards of Lego or Kindle time. Study your kids, you’ll know what will work for them.
20. Don’t Forget
Whether your child eats well or not most of the food we buy lacks certain nutrients because the soil foods grow in is depleted, therefore, kids and adults alike, should include a really good multivitamin and maybe even a pro-biotic to help keep everyone healthy. These are my favorites:
- Smarty Pants
- Natural Vitality
- Kefir Milk (or make your own with live Kefir grains, it’s super easy)
Remember too, after all is said and done your home is not an a-la-carte restaurant…period! Try different strategies over time, but surely not all at once.
Let me see, (scratching my head) have I covered it all? Yep, I think so. The blogosphere is not scarce with articles, tips and recipes for the picky eaters. Google to get even more tips!
How do you handle your child’s picky eating habits?
Disclaimer…again: I am not a psychologist or medical doctor, just a mom. These tips are not intended to diagnose or treat any child’s eating habits, if you feel your child’s eating habits warrant further attention, do your due diligence and consult a qualified health practitioner.