My firstborn hated to eat from birth – he never nursed well, and refused anything besides cereal and yogurt until he was over a year old. As he got older, meal times were painful ordeals. We argued constantly over what he would or wouldn’t eat. Thankfully, with time and consistency, his list of edible foods grew, and now he does a pretty good job of eating most normal foods.
My second son was the opposite. He was born eating everything in sight. He weighed twice as much as my firstborn at 8 months old, and ate meals with the rest of the family by the time he was a year old. But once he turned two, he started getting picky. “Me no like that,” is now his favorite phrase at the table. And I sigh. My hard eater got easier, but my good eater got harder . . . So I’ve learned that every child has to go through a picky stage. It must be a childhood rite of passage or something. 🙂
How do we get good nutrition into our kids without fighting a battle every night? Is there a way to encourage them to try new foods? How do we get them through the picky stage?
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here’s some things that have worked for me.
Require a TINY bite of new foods, and nothing more. I tell my boys they don’t have to like it, and they don’t have to eat it, but they do have to take a tiny taste. Sometimes I just let them lick the food and not actually eat it. They still make a face and grumble and complain, but they have discovered that new foods aren’t always as bad as they think.
Don’t give up after the first try. Because we lived overseas where apples were rare, my firstborn son didn’t taste applesauce until he was three years old. The first time he tried it, he hated it. I didn’t push the issue, but whenever there was a good opportunity I made him taste it again – “just one tiny bite.” After a few months he decided that applesauce wasn’t so bad after all, and now he begs for it!
Expect them to like it. Be excited about a new food – “Look, here’s something Mommy really likes that you’ve never had before. I can’t wait to share it with you!” Or, if you have one with a stubborn personality, you might try some reverse psychology. Tell them that this special food is only for Mommy and Daddy, because they won’t like it. Then watch them beg for a bite! 🙂
Get them involved in the process. My son likes to sit down with a picture cookbook and chose what he wants me to make for supper. When I can, I let him help me cook as well. He’s much more likely to eat what I make if he feels ownership from being involved!
Set up a sticker/reward system. This doesn’t work for every child, but it can be very helpful to have a sticker chart for meal time. If you want, you can include things like remembering their manners and taking their plate to the sink, as well as things like trying new foods and finishing their meal.
Limit snacks and juice. I’ve noticed that when my boys are really hungry, they’ll eat things that they normally turn their nose up at! Sometimes children don’t eat well at mealtime because we’ve let them snack all day on sweets. This doesn’t mean they should never have a snack: especially younger children often need a snack between meals. But make sure it’s something nutritious, and make sure it’s far enough from mealtime that they’ll be hungry again before it’s time to eat.
Don’t offer substitutes. If my boys don’t want to eat what’s on the table, I’m not cooking them a separate meal. I do try to be considerate of their preferences, and have at least one thing on the table that I’m pretty sure they’ll like. But if they suddenly decide that they hate macaroni and cheese (which has happened), that’s just too bad! And they can’t have a big snack after the meal either, to make up for the fact that they skipped supper. The less I encourage and cater to their pickiness, the less picky they tend to be.
Teach them to quietly remove foods they don’t like. Lots of people don’t like green olives, and that’s okay. We don’t have to force our children to like everything they eat! But they do need to learn not to throw a fit about it, but just pick them out of their food and keep eating.
Keep working with her, and one day your picky eater will be able to sit down and eat a normal meal without begging, bribing, and coaching. At least, that’s what I keep hoping…
This guest post was contributed by Melissa Toews. Melissa Toews is mommy to three little men (ages 4, 2 and 2 months) and wife to the big man they call daddy. She loves writing, curling up with a novel, and sharing coffee with her husband – in all the free time she doesn’t have while keeping three other people alive and happy. Besides being a mom, Melissa is a freelance blogger writing for several blogs, including her own community for expat women at TCKmom.com. Interested in sharing a post on our site? Email Jamie@mamamommymom.com