It seems like everyone has an opinion on picky eaters. This series on Picky Eaters is not trying to change anyone’s mind or make anyone feel like less of a parent because they do things differently. This is my story and what worked for our family. If you are struggling in this area, feel free to try some of my ideas. If you have your own tips to share, leave a comment or join our active discussion going on over at The Blog Frog.
I know that I said I was going to answer a reader question in this post, but I wanted to talk a little about picky eaters before I go on.
What is a picky eater?
I do not like ice cream, pies, most cookies, or cakes, does that make me picky? My children refuse to eat most fast food, are they picky?
I think we call someone a picky eater because either:
1. They refuse to try new foods, or
2. They do not eat a diet of healthy foods.
I don’t think anyone would say the following…
Little Tim is sooooo picky. He refuses to eat white bread, Lucky Charms, and chicken nuggets. All he asks for is carrot sticks, apple slices, and whole wheat zucchini bread. He wouldn’t eat his cinnamon roll yesterday morning at Burger King and when we came home he insisted I make him a bowl of steel cut oats with blueberries. What am I going to do with that child?”
This child is being choosy about what he wants to eat, but he is making good choices.
When a child is being picky it is important to determine the “heart issue.” Are they being defiant? Is the food something they truly dislike or are they not open to trying something new? Is this a battle of the wills? Is your child testing you? Or is there an allergy or something else going on. It is up to you to figure out where the problem lies and act appropriately.
I have seen parents create works of art with their child’s food to get them to eat it. The child doesn’t dislike the food, they are just being difficult and the parent is bending over backwards to placate the child. If you have the time to turn their peanut putter sandwiches into teddy bears and hearts then more power to you, but their spouse might not appreciate this technique in the future. Remember the habits formed as a child will most likely carry over into adulthood. More than one person has asked what to do with a picky spouse in the forum discussion.
Is your child associating a certain food with a bad experience? I once had a toddler throw up tri-colored rotini with red sauce all over me, and continued to throw it up for several hours, I haven’t served tri-colored rotini since that incident. Could I eat it if I had too, sure, but even looking at the package in the store turns my stomach.
If your child dislikes a certain food because of a bad experience, give them some time and try the food again later.
If your child eats a wide variety of foods and they come across something they don’t like, give them a break. I have one child who eats; apples, oranges, watermelon, honey dew, pineapple, bananas, corn, green beans, broccoli, lettuce, peas, peppers, and many other fruits and vegetables. He doesn’t like fresh strawberries. When I serve strawberries I give him a small piece to try, but if his tastes haven’t changed I don’t worry too much about it, he eats lots of other good food.
Is your child going through a phase? Many of my children have gone through a period where they only eat a handful of items. During these periods I continue to offer all the foods they use to eat, but I don’t force the issue. I will not however, substitute healthy foods with junk. If my child decides one day he only likes apples and stops eating other fruit, then he eats a lot of apples. I will not serve cookies and juice to replace the healthy foods he once enjoyed.
If your child refuses to try new foods you must make a choice. You can either make it an issue or ignore it. If you ignore it, chances are your child will develop an extremely limited appetite. How can they know they don’t like something, if they have never tried it? If you make the decision that your children will try new foods, create guidelines and stick to them. Whether it be the two bite rule, the one food you never have to eat rule, the eat it for breakfast if you don’t finish it for dinner rule, make the guidelines clear and stick to your guns.
If you are always changing the rules, your child will be confused and not know what is expected of them.
There are other times with battles over food are just another way of your young child trying to take the lead in your relationship. It has nothing to do with taste, texture, allergies, or negative experiences. It is a way to get attention and get what they want. Who, when given the choice, would not want to eat a diet of junk food and soda pop? I am sure many of us would chose cake over a carrot most days of the week. If you are not sure if this is what you are dealing with ask a trusted friend or family member if they see evidences of willful disobedience during meal time.
If you determine it is an issue of wills, then it is important to take charge of mealtime and set down some guidelines to make mealtime a pleasant and healthy experience for everyone.
Coming up next… reader questions answered and suggestions on how to turn your picky eater into a good eater.