Since the days my daughters were born, I’ve been reading books and articles about how to address picky eaters. To many people, there is nothing worse than the picky eater. We grip the sides of the kitchen table and plead with our whole selves. Let. Me. Feed. You.
Restaurants assume my kids are picky eaters. Schools assume my kids are picky eaters. I know picky eaters. I’ve dealt with picky eaters. My daughters are generally good eaters but they have been picky plenty of times. Recently, at a talk we gave to a local women’s group there were early questions about how to address picky eaters and when we began giving our thoughts a second quick question followed, “but how old are your kids.” Meaning, my kids are older and (oh, boy) get ready. They used to eat well. I’d be lying if I didn’t start to worry just a little bit about what was ahead for me.
Kids grow and change and stretch out what they are willing to do (and not do) according to our plans. That’s not going to change. Quite frankly, I’m doing all of those things too. I eat chocolate cake when I know an apple is a better choice. I also feel the freedom to do that. Kids often don’t.
So, here are the top tips that I’ve read about that work for my family. Hopefully they will help yours.
1. Don’t give up. Kids need to try something anywhere from 10-15 times before they like it. In my house, my latest battle is grains (rice, quinoa, farro). I make these grains often and serve them night after night in an attempt to lessen the meat consumption of my family (that’s for another time…). Many times I get complains, whines, rolling of 5-year-old eyes as soon as the meal hits the table. But I refuse to give up. I never force them to eat, but they will eat if they are hungry. Last week, I made one dish that my daughter loved. Rice! I tried not to celebrate or make a big deal. The next time I served rice, she wasn’t interested. But I know it’s possible so I keep trying. Don’t give up.
2. Get the kids involved. Depending on their age, kids can be very helpful and involved in the kitchen. Mixing ingredients in a bowl, fetching items from the refrigerator, slicing and dicing on the counter top. Whatever is appropriate. Aside from asking them what food they like and adding it to the weekly meal plan, you can also involved them at the store level. Let them choose a new vegetable or fruit. Kids spend so much time being told what not to do. They get excited when they feel in charge. Especially when it comes to what ends up on their plate.
3. Don’t make a big deal about what they eat, but make meal time special. Throw on a table cloth. Turn on some soft music. Turn down the lights and light a candle or two. Pretend you’re at a restaurant and take turns being the waiter or waitress. Make it something to look forward to. Especially if you can find a meal where the whole family is sitting together.
4. Don’t use dessert as a reward for eating. This is a tough one. I’ve never done this but my daughters are constantly bombarded with this message. Eat your dinner and you’ll get dessert. Eat your dinner or you won’t get your dessert. Do you want ice cream? Then you better eat your broccoli. Tons and tons and tons of research shows that these types of conversations can lead to misinterpretation of what food is used for and good for. It can create (not prevent) the idea that vegetables (in this case) are “bad” and dessert is “good”. That vegetables are what we trudge through in order to be rewarded with the good stuff. In some cases, it has even been shown to lead to eating disorders. Time and again, we are advised to not make a big deal about food, including dessert. In my house we have a one bite rule and no matter what happens during dinner, we always serve dessert.
I’m not an expert and I will face more challenges at my table. But these feel good to me in my house. What do you do in yours?