I am sure almost all parents go through this with at least one of their children, and if you are one of the very lucky few who have not had to deal with picky eaters I would consider yourself lucky! As parents we want what is best for our children and when we “feel” they are not getting the best in our eyes we feel like we have failed. Having a picky eater in your home can be extremely frustrating and trying at times, not to mention a huge blow to your mom ego because you may feel as if you are failing to provide them with all the nutrients they need because they refuse to eat certain foods or will only eat “chicken nuggets”.
Let me tell you I have very different children, my first-born as a baby loved all foods, even those green beans and peas that most babies when being introduced to spit out – she loved them. However as she grew into a toddler her tastes must have done a complete 360 because she hated anything and everything that would be deemed “healthy”. I could not get my toddler to eat fruit, not fresh, not canned, not pureed. I could not get her to eat vegetables, not fresh, not canned, not pureed. I at times felt like I was almost ready to have a nervous breakdown as my child would gag and turn her nose up to anything other than meat, french fries, Kraft dinner and pasta.
At 10 years of age now she is still that picky eater and other than a very few fruits and vegetable trying to get her to eat anything out of her comfort zone is a fight. She has a million and one excuses now that she can voice her opinion – “its gross” or my favourite “I don’t like it”, most of the time she has never even tried what I am attempting to slip onto her plate however she must have super powers to know that she doesn’t like it before ever tasting it. Sometimes the funniest times are when I am serving different forms of potatoes, eg: she loves french fries but for the longest time would not eat mashed potatoes – plain mashed potatoes. Of course I explained to her that french fries and mashed potatoes are the same vegetable just one is fried and one is boiled then mashed – nope it took me a good 2 years to get her to eat mashed potatoes.
My other daughter however hated almost all fruits and vegetables as a baby but as she grew into a toddler and now almost 8 years old she will eat and try almost anything you put in front of her. She even eats things I turn my nose up to. It is so interesting how you can birth children who have such different tastes in food.
Over the years of raising my children especially the picky eater I have had some failing moments and some moments where I won the battle and my picky eater tried something and actually liked it. It was those times that made all the frustrating times melt away and made me feel like I had accomplished a mission to the moon! Every child is different and I have learned this lesson very well as I have complete opposite children, none are like the other which means each child will not only have their own likes/dislikes but also dealing with each child will be different – what may work for one might not fly by the other!
There are many different ways you can “cope” with your picky eater and make meal time a much more enjoyable and less stressful time in your home and I am going to share some of my tips, tricks and knowledge of how you can do this!
A few great tips and things to try & remember:
1. Put your mind at ease their bodies are smarter than us and them put together, it will seek its needs which in this case is the nutrients their bodies need.
2. Offering them new things frequently from all of the different food groups also helps and try inviting them to help you pick out some different foods during your grocery shopping.
3. Keeping junk food out of your house (as hard as it may be, or hiding it in a locked down vault lol) so that when they are hungry their only choice are the healthier foods in the fridge or starvation. I’ve yet to see any of my children pick the latter option.
4. Try observing your children’s particular tastes and textures that turn your children off and be mindful of this avoiding them as much as possible.
5. When your children are old enough let them help you in preparing some of the meals you make for the family. There are some great cookbooks that have lots of fun and easy to make meals that are put together more like a cool art project than a meal like turning celery sticks into pirate ships – get creative with them. Allowing them to be involved in the selection and preparation of meals may give your children a small sense of control over their eating habits.
6. The utmost important piece of advice I can give any parent is NEVER make a big deal over your children’s picky eating. If you child senses that getting them to eat is more important to you than to them they will use their pickiness to defeat you and you may end up in a power struggle – to which we all know children win. Keep calm and shrug off their refusals. Then say “That’s fine if you don’t want to try this, but you are really missing out.” There is strong evidence that making a fuss over dinner is linked to the development of eating disorders.
7. When your children get passed the toddler stage around five or so it is okay to calmly say “Okay, you don’t have to eat what is on your plate, but the next meal is breakfast” of course keeping their plate ready to reheat in case they change their mind and become hungry. Don’t turn your home into a restaurant and prepare them something else than the rest of the family. If they goes hungry that night they will catch up the next day, they will not starve.
8. Make sure you are giving your children a vitamin to fill any nutritional voids from their picky eating habits. My kids love Disney Gummies Vitamins. I sometimes have to remind them they are not candy and you can only take one a day!
9. Once you child hits 11 or 12 you can be more aggressive and insist they take at least one bite of every food item on their plate. Remember though to draw a line beyond which you refuse to push. Children will rebel more if you tend to make your children remain at the table until they have finished everything on their plates.
Some more great tips:
Create A Finger Food Tray
Using an ice-cube tray, a muffin tin or any kind of divided dish and putting bite sized pieces
of colorful and nutritious food in each section. Give these foods fun names that a toddler can appreciate such as:
cheese building blocks
Give Them Something To Dip It In
Toddlers think that dipping foods is pure fun and messy offer some of these to dip their food into:
- cottage cheese or tofu dip
- cream cheese
- peanut butter
- pureed fruits or vegetables
Add Spreads To It
Toddlers like spreading and smearing things so show them how to use a butter or plastic knife to spread cheeses, peanut butter or fruit spreads onto crackers, bread, or rice cakes. This makes them a part of the meal/snack and will make them more content at trying it.
Put Toppings On It
Toddlers love to put toppings on their foods, I know mine wanted and still wants grated cheese on everything. Putting nutritious and familiar toppings on top of new and less desirable foods is a great way to broaden the picky toddler’s menu. Some of our favorite toppings are yogurt, cream cheese, melted/grated cheese, guacamole, tomato sauce, applesauce, and peanut butter.
Let Them Drink It
If your picky eating child is like mine and at one point would rather drink than eat don’t worry make some nutritious fruit and yogurt smoothies. Smoothies are a huge favourite in my home and it is great for sneaking in new foods. You can sneak a lot of healthy foods into a smoothie that you normally would not be able to get your toddler to eat. When your child begins to enjoy a certain smoothie texture slip in a new food once or twice a week such as spinach – which is masked and will not be detected or tofu which also won’t be noticed as the tofu does not change the taste very much. Do be easy with the spinach as it is slightly more detectable by color and taste – a little bit at a time. Try some of the following ingredients to make your smoothies:
- ground flax seeds
- fruits such as blueberries, strawberries,
- mango, papaya, pineapple or banana
- juices such as pomegranate, carrot, veggie
- juice or orange
- organic yogurt or milk
- multivitamin or multimineral protein powder
- omega-3 supplement such as fish oil
- peanut butter
- spinach leaves
- wheat germ
- whey protein powder
Make Fun Shapes
Sometimes what children will eat can depend on how it looks to them. Cut their foods such as sandwiches, pancakes or pizza into different shapes using cookie cutters or a knife to make their food more visually inviting.
Children Have Small Stomachs
Be mindful that a child’s stomach is incredibly small their stomach is approximately the size of their fist. So make sure to only offer small portions at first and if they would like more afterwards that is fine. Sometimes when a child sees a huge amount of food on a plate it is overwhelming and they are more likely to not eat when there is too much vs when there is a smaller amount. Also remember to not give them snacks at least two hours prior to meal time as they may not be hungry due to the recent snack.
Don’t Get Stuck On Meals
Children don’t understand what the difference is between breakfast, lunch and dinner so if your child insists on eating pizza in the morning or pancakes in the evening just go with it. It is far better to have them eat what meals they will even if they are having dinner for breakfast than them not eating at all.
Although having a picky eater can be a very frustrating and trying time remember that for children what and how much they are willing to eat will most certainly vary on a daily basis. Don’t be surprised if your child eats a large plateful of food one day and nearly nothing the next or loves carrots on Tuesday and refuses it on Friday. The only thing consistent about toddler feeding is its inconsistency. Try to just roll with these food swings as I like to call them and don’t take it personally, sometime between their 2nd & 3rd birthday you can expect them to become more set in their ideas on just about everything including food.
Do you have any picky eater tips you would like to share? Leave a comment below!