“My kid would never eat that.”
“I have the pickiest eater.”
“He only likes mac and cheese and chicken nuggets.”
I hear these phrases from parents on the daily struggle to get their child to eat well. Often, I’m not brave enough to reply with what I really want to say. But, alas, bravado builds behind a computer, so here goes my question: What are you doing to change it?
Maybe you start with the best intentions, but eventually give in when they push their plate away? Or maybe you go straight to what you know they’ll actually eat. Why waste food or deal with an epic meltdown?
Yes, it’s way easier to give your child what you know won’t cause a major struggle.
Believe me, my toddlers would be tickled to live the rest of their lives on cereal and raisins. But the flipside is that unless you expose them to a variety of tastes, textures, and flavors, you’ll end up as the chicken nugget mom that would have horrified the pre-kid version of yourself.
But the truth is that most good eaters aren’t born that way; they’re a product of parents who serve a variety of foods, knowing that they won’t always be a win. Changing the way your child eats starts with you.
6 Parenting Tips for Improving the Habits of a Picky Eater
So here are six tips for improving the eating behaviors of a child who is a picky eater:
1. Be brave enough to take it on with these tips that have worked with my own kids and in many of my clients:
2. Don’t get emotionally attached to whether or not he eats it. Pressure doesn’t help either of you, and removing it can make your child open to trying new foods on his own terms. If he doesn’t like it, take a deep breath and remember there will be other opportunities.
3. Introduce new foods gradually. Skip a big overhaul in favor of a slower approach. Add new foods to their plates one at a time, keeping on it what you know they’ll eat, slowly adding more of the former and less of the latter. Make this a dinner table rule: You don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it.
4. Get them involved. When kids pick food from the farm or the grocery store and help with a recipe, they take pride in their work. I remember going to a farm with my four year old and we picked our own brussel sprouts (yes, it’s a thing). He loved it, and we washed and roasted the sprouts, and when it came to eating them, he really really wanted to like it but just didn’t. I considered it a win. When else would he have ever been excited to try a brussel sprout?
5. Don’t write off foods they don’t like. Kids’ tastebuds (and moods) are constantly changing. Just because she doesn’t like something once doesn’t mean she won’t like it next time–or 10 times after that.
6. Eat together and serve everyone the same thing. it’s not possible every night, but seeing you eat and enjoy the food sets a precedent for the type of behavior they should emulate. Sounds novel? Remember that we are the only country in the world that thinks it’s acceptable to make separate meals for our children!