You've tried begging. You've raised your voice. You've threatened to take away dessert…but you STILL have a picky eater! At BabyandKidAllergies, we have "been there, done that" - and along the way, have learned some wonderful tips on how to get your picky child to eat.
This article is for older toddlers and above. Never restrict your baby or very young toddler from food when he or she is hungry!
Believe us, you will see the tricks further down! But for now, let's look at the bottom line when it comes to picky eaters. If you begin catering, you will cater for the rest of your child's life. Monsters can be created very quickly when Mom decides to make more than one meal for dinner, and that is exactly what you are trying to avoid.
Our very best advice? Only one meal, no matter how much crying or screaming you hear. Don't make food a huge issue. After all, if your child is hungry, he or she will eventually eat. By making one meal that the whole family is eating, you are teaching the child that he or she cannot use food as a weapon or tool. Dinner is dinner, period. Dinnertime is truly for the family to be together, to talk and enjoy quiet time together. It should not focus around the actual food being eaten, but rather the wonderful family time it allows.
As we said, create one meal. But if you know the main dish is going to cause some resistance in your picky child, make sure you have at least two sides that your child can fill up on. Ask your child to try the main dish, but if you get a refusal, serve the sides and move on. If you begin to fight, your child will learn that there is power to be had around food, and that your weakness may just be at the dinner table. If the toddler knows that avoiding food will stress Mom out, trust us, the toddler will begin to use this as a tool. If your child begins to cry and make a fuss, either ignore it or ask your child to please leave the table until he or she is ready to join in the wonderful family discussion at dinner.
Never tell your picky eater that he cannot leave the table until he finishes his meal. Food should never be a battle, because your picky eater will always win. Allow your child to eat the sides and then dinner is over. If your child wishes to snack shortly after dinner, your response should depend on the child. If your child is young, allow an apple, banana, yogurt - anything small and healthy. But after that, no more snacks or grazing. And DEFINITELY no desert if the child didn't at least try the main dish. If your picky eater is older, simply tell them they should have had more at dinner, and tell them what time breakfast will be served. Allow water or milk, but no desserts or further snacking.
Yes, we said tricks! Young children may try to gain power over food, but you are smarter, and can actually trick him or her into eating healthy food. Some may say you should not have to play games to get your child to eat... but these people have probably never had three children, two adults and a dog around the dinner table! Here are some tips and tricks to help your child learn to enjoy eating healthy food:
- Teach your child how to prepare the food on his or her own. Always supervise, but truly allow your older child to chop, mix and stir. Younger children who cannot use a knife can pour things in to unheated bowls or pots, they can stir items before they are heated and much more. Use your imagination. Green beans for dinner? Allow your little one to pop the ends off the beans before you cook them! Yes, you may have some very strangely shaped beans, but your toddler just may want to taste them after they are cooked!
- As you are preparing dinner, slice up a few grapes, carrot sticks or other healthy food and put it in a bowl right next to you. Don't pay any attention to it and watch the magic begin. You just might see a hand sneak up and grab one. If this doesn't happen, use the squirrel trick! Say outloud, "Oh, I thought I saw a little squirrel running around the kitchen! Hmm I wonder if little squirrels like to steal carrots? I have four carrots in here. I wonder if I look away, if one will be gone!" We have used this trick many times... it is fun to watch the little hand sneak up, grab a carrot and shove it into a nearby mouth. Act surprised and say, "Oh my!! Why, a little squirrel came in and ate a carrot! There were four, and now there are three! I wonder if the squirrel will sneak another??"
- At the dinner table, if you know your child will turn his or her nose up at a new vegetable, place it on your own plate and offer it to others. Eat is as if it was the best food in the whole world. Make sure you always have a bit on your plate near your toddler. If your toddler thinks it is his idea to try it, he may sneak a piece of your plate and try it! Or put the bowl of this food next to her - she may decide to take a snitch! If your toddler does not like it, simply say, "It's OK not to like it, and I am so proud you tried it! Maybe the next new thing you try will end up being your favorite food!"
- Act excited and tell your child you don't think he could POSSIBLY eat two bites of that chicken. You KNOW she can eat one, but TWO? What an amazing thing that would be! Make this a game and watch your child take more and more bites.
- It's all in the presentation! Make the meal look like a smiling face on the plate, or stack things up so they look fun to eat.
- Serve a meal that everyone can prepare, such as pita bread, bowls of cheese and other condiments along with ground beef. Your child may love adding things to the pocket pita bread!
Kay’s Note: For older family members, just start cooking! Don’t talk about it, just begin.