As my kids get older I am starting to believe that fussy eaters are partially made, not born. There is an element of kid personality in there – stubborn, adventurous, fearful, curious – but there is also what we, as parents do that contribute to picky eating.
This isn’t about blame or any kind of accusation. But so many of us resort to negotiation, substitutions, and even resignation all in the name of ensuring our kids eat a meal. What’s important is that we care that our kids are eating and we care what they eat.
I believe that if we make an issue out of things, it becomes an issue. So if your kid won’t eat vegetables and you are constantly haranguing them to eat their peas, then they will grow up fighting you on them. But if you encourage them to try new things and trust that they won’t starve themselves, everyone will be happier.
Photo by Cheryl
In our house we feed our kids what we eat for dinner – same spices, same seasonings, same ingredients. We put a little of everything on their plate. After that they can choose to eat it or not. The key rule is that they at least have to try everything.
Are my kids picky? Not really, but they are particular about a few things. My 3 year old has an utter dislike for white foods (rice, potatoes, and pasta that isn’t spaghetti) and vegetables generally only get eaten when I’m prepping them and not when the toddler is presented them on a plate.
But we don’t have food battles and I think I know why.
We make the finding, the preparing, and the sitting down together to eat central to eating, not just the act of putting food in our mouths. Food is part of life, something to celebrate and give us energy.
Food is not a call to arms.
Photo by Cheryl
How to help your child embrace food
These are my tips for reducing the chance of pickiness rearing its ugly head at your dinner table.
Sit Down Together
When we eat together they see everyone eating the same thing (positive peer pressure). They copy what we do all the time, so model your own good eating.
Change it up sometimes or let them eat with their hands. Novelty can go a long way. For example, with kiddie chopsticks, my 3 year old will devour sashimi. But ask her to eat cooked salmon at home and she often turns her head.
Get Them in the Kitchen
It’s no guarantee, but having them help, even as a toddler, gives them ownership and pride in what’s on their plate.
Get Them in the Field
Have them touch the food in the ground, as it comes out of the ground. Those memories will trigger lots of enjoyment and association at the dinner table. Knowing where your food comes from is fodder for appreciation.
Photo by Cheryl
I’m not a fan of hiding vegetables in food or making up fun names for conventional things. It is what it is and they will like it or not. When you hide food within food I feel like you are cheating your kid. That being said, here is a great recipe for macaroni and cheese with squash.
Food is Food
Along the same lines as not hiding vegetables I also don’t generally like making cute faces, cutting pretty shapes, or making up non-food names for food. Of course, family nicknames for things don’t count. We call filled pasta Ghosts, for example.
Over the course of a week most kids eat a balanced diet (if you offer them one). So what if one day is not great on the veggie or milk front. Tomorrow they’ll eat a bowl of yogurt and it will be fine. Don’t sweat every meal.
Offer, Offer, Offer
If you only give your kids chicken strips and cheese then that’s what they’ll eat, so don’t complain about it. If you want them to eat something besides that then prepare yourself for a few weeks of tantrums and simply take that stuff out of the house. Then just keep presenting what you want them to eat, no pressure, and hope for the best.
At the end of the day
Whether we’re full of energy or dog tired, we want to sit down to a pleasant family meal at the end of the day. Or, in my house, a meal that involves roaring contests and loads of Peek-A-Boo. No one wants a battle. Make your moves one at a time, slowly; over time you will have greater success than if you approach every meal as if it were another war. No one ever wins that way.
Let the food itself be a leader and the rest can follow.
How do you introduce new foods to your kids?