My son was one of those rare children who loved anything you put in front of him to eat. His favorite foods as a toddler were black olives, grape tomatoes, and grapes. He would eat them any time of day, all day. It was great to just immerse him into our meals, without having to even entertain the idea of cooking a different meal just for him. However, life changed dramatically when my daughter came along. She had a SUPER PICKY palate, and a very strong gag reflex–the ultimate bad combination. She would turn up her nose at so many of our go-to foods, that I started to fix different meals for the kids. Not just for her, but for my son, too. So, I was turning my son into a picky eater, too. Luckily, I recognized what I was doing and did a lot of thinking. I had to make it work. I could not make two meals a night, and I was not going to let the kids get away with waiting to see what “their” meal was, if they would just wait it out long enough. I was not going to let them starve, but something had to give.
Give Them Options, But Not Too Many
If your kid gags on oatmeal, give it up. Make breakfast oatmeal cookies instead. Or get an oatmeal cold cereal. Not everything we want them to eat will go over well, but try it first. They will surprise you sometimes at what they like. So, try different things for a few days. Give the same fruits and veggies throughout the day for a few days, and see what they like and what they don’t. Do not try something once, and give up when they refuse to try it. Present it again the next day, and maybe you will get a better result. So many parents do that, and then say that their kids are picky. But, it takes time to create a routine. This is a routine. Take the time to test out the waters before giving up.
Your kids will not starve. If they refuse to even try a food, then let them figure out what else they are going to eat on their plate to get full. Let them know that the kitchen is closed, and that there are no other meals to be prepared for them. And if they don’t eat, then that is ok. We all know we will give them a little snack later. But do not go to the kitchen to find something you know they will like, just to get them to eat something. That is them winning, and us losing. Make them know that we eat one meal as a family. Period.
I am one who was always rewarded with food as a kid. Good day at school? Let’s get ice cream! It’s Friday? Let’s get KFC! It set me up for weight issues that I deal with everyday, and I even caught myself starting this with my kids. So, dessert in our house is a reward for trying all the foods on their plate. But, dessert has taken on many forms in our house. We love fruit with whipped topping, popcorn with a few mini M&Ms sprinkled in, and yogurt with sprinkles in our house. And they are all foods that I can feel good about letting the kids eat. Maybe you start a star chart, giving the child a star each time they try a new food. Do whatever works for your child. But let them know that it is important (both to you and to them) that they eat a variety of foods, and that you all eat as a family.
With these tips, and some major (sometimes) will power, you can set-up your children for a lifetime of healthy and adventurous eating. We learn from our parents, so help them form healthy eating habits early in life. And, finally, be a good example to your kids. Suck it up if you don’t like asparagus. It’s good for you. Show them that you will try it, even if it isn’t your favorite. Be brave, so that they learn to be, too.