Elizabeth Elizabeth is a divorced mother of two elementary-aged boys. She is a former English professor and lay minister who now manages the office and communications for a local church. When she's not working or writing, you'll usually find her cooking for her loved ones or hanging out at coffee shops and bookstores. Contact her by e-mailing her at Elizabeth@mumblingmommy.com.

Children are picky eaters, and I’m not the first or even the 100th parent to struggle with that issue.

Fellow blogger Rachael reviewed a book  that is all about how to deal with this particular breed of child, complete with recipes that have kid-friendly names. There’s a reason experts write books on the topic. It is real problem in many homes. right. He exclusively breast-fed until 6 months, when we gradually introduced him to one solid food at a time. We even started with those tasteless, pasty, high-iron “baby cereals” that no baby in his right mind would enjoy.  We bought a food processor and made him gourmet baby food blends that were healthier and cheaper than jarred food.

Except for the cereal issue, Jonathan was a great eater once he got going on solid food. We had a few months of bliss where we were convinced we had the perfect baby: not only was he a champion sleeper, but he ate anything we offered him, especially vegetables.

Then he turned 1, his appetite dropped, and we spent the next 3 years playing short order cooks to a child that would only eat select dairy products, fruit, and grains (bread, cereal, popcorn.)

He refused to put anything related to meat or vegetables in his mouth.  I read books and blogs on picky eating, and many gave advice on how to “disguise” food, but no, he was too smart for that. It doesn’t matter how pretty you make the food or how much you cover it with cheese or cream sauce if the child refuses to even try it.

I was determined not to make food a battle ground.  It’s too easy to bribe, threaten, or otherwise play emotional games with your child to get him to eat. From what I’ve read, that’s a bad idea because can lead to bad food choices later in life.  So I decided that whatever he did eat would be healthy and natural. I got a bread machine at a garage sale and started making my own bread (easy, cheap, and better than store-bought.) I bought a variety of fruits and healthy dairy products for him. That worked for a while, but by the time he was 4, we realized it was time for him to expand his horizons.

One night I made a pasta dish and put some on his plate. To my shock and awe, he loved it—even though it had both tomatoes and meat! His brother ate it, too, and for the first time the whole family ate the same thing for dinner that wasn’t pizza.

Several months later, we now offer Jonathan the “family meal” each night, and he has to take at least 1 bite of each food before he can refuse it. And if he doesn’t like it, I don’t jump up and make him something else. Doing this helped him discover broccoli and roast chicken, two of his current favorites. He doesn’t eat everything we eat, but he eats a larger variety of foods than ever. Meanwhile, his brother is getting pickier by the day…

What I learned in this adventure is a few steps to keep your sanity and help your picky eater get over his/her pickiness.

Remember these points about picky eaters:

A child’s appetite changes quickly and often. As adults, we need about the same amount of calories from one day to the next. But a young child’s appetite is directly related to growth. This is why infants eat so much in the first year and slow down in the second year.   The easy to feed 10 month old quickly becomes the “too busy to slow down and eat” 18-month old, and that’s normal.

Children have small stomachs.  While my 4-year old can eat a normal child-sized meal, my 2-year old often is full after a few bites.  Toddlers and preschoolers often do better with several smaller meals than with three big ones.  That doesn’t mean you need to have an ongoing “all you can eat buffet” mentality, but include snack times in your daily routine. A child who pushes away food may not fall in the picky eaters category every time.

Children often wake up hungry and are mostly full by the end of the day. This is another example of the difference between adult and child appetites. Many adults are happy with a light breakfast and lunch followed by a large dinner. Most children are hungriest at the beginning of the day and would rather eat more calories at breakfast than supper. Keep that in mind when you’re frustrated that your child won’t eat more than three bites of potato at supper. He’s not as hungry as you are. This is true of picky eaters and those kids who eat anything.

Keep the food options healthy. Does your child have a sweet tooth? My 2-year old does, so he would live on candy and cookies if given half a chance. When he wants something sweet, I offer him raisins, a banana, or an all-natural yogurt (no dyes, additives, etc. We love Stonyfield Farm YoKids.) Does your child like salty snacks instead? Air-pop popcorn and put on a little real butter and a light dash of salt. It’s cheaper and better than the premade stuff, and it has protein and fiber that you won’t find in a pretzel or chip.

Cook with your kids.  I think this was the biggest turning point for Jonathan. We love to cook, and he’s “helped” in the kitchen since he was a toddler. But it took him a while to make the connection between helping mom make dinner and actually eating that dinner himself. Now that he has, he loves to cook with me, and he’s learning a valuable life skill along the way.

Teach your kids to eat consciously: turn off the TV! Adults and children both lose track of what they’re eating when they eat in front of the TV. Yes, we all do it, but your couch should not be your main dining room, nor should your kids only eat when they’re in the back of your car. Sit down with your kids at the table and eat with them. Put aside your own distractions and talk to your kids (that’s one I have to remind myself, too).  Multiple studies show that families who eat together have happier, healthier kids – picky eaters or not.

Talk to your doctor/ nutritionist. Of course get regular checkups to make sure your child is growing as much as he or she should, especially in the first two years. If you’re genuinely concerned about your child’s health, talk to your doctor about vitamin supplements, nutritional needs, etc.  If unhealthy eating is a problem for the whole family, visit a nutritionist who can help you develop healthy, family-friendly eating strategies.

Forgive yourself.  You were exhausted, the kids were cranky, so you got them McNuggets and fries in the drive-through. It’s okay. There are no food police out there to arrest you for bad food choices. Get it right most of the time, enjoy occasional indulgences along the way, and you’ll all eat better. And feel free to ignore in-laws, grandparents, etc. who encourage you to “send him to bed hungry” or “tell him to clean his plate” to get your child to eat better.  This won’t change the behavior of picky eaters.

Good luck, and happy eating!

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Category: Health

Tags: Elizabeth