Is your picky eater making you crazy?
As an experienced mom of one seriously picky eater, I feel your pain!
You know what’s funny though, my family and I were eating at a friends house not too long ago and our friend (also a mother) commented on how well my kids ate!
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I just about fell out of my chair! And if you are the mother of a picky eater, you know why!
My first reaction was, YES! This is what I have been working on for the last 8 years!
My second reaction was, “Is this woman crazy?” Yes, she is my friend, but still! She had to be crazy if she thought both my kids were good eaters!
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Why am I calling my friend crazy?
Why am I calling my friend crazy? Here’s why…
My daughter, yes, she is a good eater, but I have known that since she was eating Mahi Mahi off my plate at age 1 and Black Bean Soup loaded with onions, peppers, and sausage shortly after. She has a great palette!
It’s my son who is the picky eater. Ever since he started eating solid food, he has had a very hard time finding food that he likes. My daughter was so easy, eating things like beans, avocados, and fish. Then my son came along and , well let’s just say that when my friend said my kids were such good eaters, I finally felt like maybe we were rounding the bend on this long 8 year road to good eating!
My son is 8 years old and getting ready to turn 9. THAT is how long we have dealt with picky eating. But we really have ’rounded the bend’ and I have known it for a little while.
When my friend made her comment, it was just a final affirmation that we were getting somewhere! My son really is finally able to eat so many more things and actually asks to try new things as well…sometimes! But I take whatever wins I can get!
And just so you know, the road to this point was one paved with a lot of yelling, tears, and frustration through the years. So I know what you are going through. But there was also a lot of learning that I can share with you.
Now that you know the truth about my families’ journey with picky eating and the fact that it is still not quite over, I hope you will learn from my mistakes and also from the things I did right.
The most important advice I can give you at this point is to be patient and understanding!
Reasons for Picky Eating
To live in the world of a child would be, well, pretty amazing really!
Maybe if we could truly put ourselves in their shoes we would realize just how hard it is to be them.
Think about this, a child has a hard time communicating because they are new to language. So how are they going to tell you what they like and don’t like without a little fussing? You just have to teach them to communicate better.
They also have a hard time taking in all of the new experiences in their lives such as colors, textures, and shapes. When things get overwhelming for them, sameness can be comforting.
Not to mention the fact that they have virtually no control over decisions in their lives. Which is why you have to make those good choices for them.
I think it is probably harder than we think to be a child.
So let’s get into some of the reasons that your child may not be eating the foods that you want them to eat.
1 // Dinnertime Is Too Rigid
There was a time in history when people were super strict about how one should act at the table. Something like playing with your food would have been a HUGE “no-no”!
But I am here to tell you … if your dinner time is etched with the idea of fear and intimidation meant to get your kids to eat, then it is going to be way harder to get your kids to actually eat.
Instead, try relaxing a bit. It’s not 1950 anymore! You can actually have fun with your family at the dinner table! Try some conversational games, sing the ABC’s, tell a few jokes you know your child laughs at and help everyone feel at ease! Especially your kids! I personally give you permission to play at the table!
2 // Food Too Boring
I can see how you may take this as an insult to your cooking, but that is not what it means at all! If your food is too boring it is just because you are thinking like an adult instead of a kid!
Kids like things that are bright, colorful, and imaginative! So play with their food and create something that is appealing to them!
3 // Not Hungry
There are plenty of days when I am starving at 4:00 pm, eat a snack and then find that when dinner rolls around I am not hungry at all.
Hasn’t that happened to you?
It is the same for kids! If they have a snack too close to mealtime, then they are not going to want to eat.
Stick to a schedule so you can make sure your meals and snacks are at the right time to make sure you little one is hungry for the meals you make.
4 // Don’t Like The Taste
Maybe they just don’t like it. That is okay…no really! It takes time to develop a taste for certain things.
Remember when we talked about all of the new things that a child experiences? Well, I am pretty sure that new tastes are part of that.
Not only that but if you make something that has a medley of flavors that your child has never experienced, it may just be too overwhelming for their immature senses.
So do them a favor and keep it simple. Only introduce one new flavor at a time and remember that it can take up to 15 “introductions” to one new food before a child decides they even want to try it.
5 // Trying to Exert Their Independence
At some point every child goes through this. My daughter went through it when she was about 3, and then every single year after that!
Kidding! But seriously, part of growing up is learning to do things on your own and having more control over what you are doing. Even in little kids.
They see mom, dad and bigger siblings doing the things they want… and then want to do them too! It is the natural course of growing up! If only that transferred into them eating better, right?
Well, for the time being, your picky eater is exerting his or her independence by refusing to do the things you want them to.
Unfortunately, that is going to carry over into not eating the things you want them to eat!
Have patience, it will get better! And remember, it is not a ‘War of Wills’. Try to compromise with your child instead of not budging on what you want them to eat.
6 // Texture Issues
This is something that we found out that my son has. He doesn’t like to eat certain textures.
This has gotten better over the years, but it is the main reason that he will not eat certain things. I can remember him putting something in his mouth and then running over to the garbage to spit it out. Sometimes he would even heave a little bit.
Again, be patient. And if this is true for your child, try to find foods that are of a similar texture to the ones your child already likes.
7 // They Don’t Like The Look Of It
Being a kid can be hard. Sometimes they just don’t like how something looks. I cannot say that I haven’t experienced this as an adult. Every time I look at tapioca pudding it makes me a little sick to my stomach.
But as an adult, I also know that just because something looks bad, that doesn’t mean it will taste bad.
Guess what, your young child probably doesn’t know that. The world is very “black and white” for them. Meaning that in their mind, if it looks bad, it probably tastes bad.
Here is where your patience comes in again. Use the 15 introductions that I mentioned above and maybe they will come around.
8 // On A 1 or 2 Food Kick Right Now
My son still does this one, but it is getting a lot better. He will decide he likes peanut butter and jelly, so he will eat it Every…Single…Day…for a whole week or possibly even two. I cannot talk him into any other food.
It also happens with mac and cheese, hot dogs, pizza. You know, all the non-vegetable foods that I really don’t want him to eat!
But like I said, he is growing out of this phase, so there is hope for your litttle one too!
9 // Distracted By Something Else
This is a HUGE problem with my family. If I don’t turn off the TV before dinner it is like crickets came to eat with me. I ask questions, How was school? What did you do at work? Did you learn anything new today?…crickets, crickets, and more crickets. (Notice I threw my husband under the bus on that one too!)
So turn off the TV, turn off the music, make sure friends go home, put the toys out of sight and make sure that you all sit down to eat at the same time. Then there is nothing to distract them from what they should be doing…which is eating and having some family time!
10 // Afraid To Try New Things
This is a big one. They are kids! New to this life! So many things scare them and that is okay. Give them time. They will come around. After all, that is all part of growing up!
Picky Eater Solutions To Try
So what do you do now? I just gave you all of these reasons why your child may be a picky eater. But where do you go from here? What are the solutions?!
Turns out, I have a whole list of things for your to try! I will point out the ones that have worked best for me!
1 // Eat As A Family
When you eat as a family your child sees you eating the things you want them to eat. It is as simple as that.
As your kids get older, you will realize that sitting at the table every night gives you the opportunity to create a fun and inviting experience where things are shared, discussed, and acknowledged, including what foods are liked and disliked.
2 // 15 Introductions
Forcing your child to eat something they hate could cause them to hate it forever. Instead, place the item you want them to eat on the edge of their plate or near their plate every time you make it for dinner. Hopefully after around 15 times of seeing it, they will take a little bite.
Don’t give up just because they don’t eat it the first time. This is a long road so you have to think about where you want to be in the end, not right now.
3 // Allow them to listen to their bodies
As your child goes through growth spurts you may find that sometimes they eat like they haven’t eaten in a year. And other times, they just pick at their food. As I mentioned above, not being hungry is a good reason for a child not to want to eat.
But one of the worst things you can do is force them to eat. Instead, allow them to listen to their own bodies. If their body is telling them they are not hungry, then they should not eat.
But you can find ways around this. If your child is never hungry at a meal time, try to move their snack to earlier in the day or possibly eliminate it entirely.
You could also try giving them a snack with less “sticking power”. Meaning something with less fat and protein. Instead of giving them a cheese stick, maybe they just need a little fruit or a veggie.
4 // Make It Fun
Remember when I said your meals may be boring? Well here is where you get to create some excitement! There are so many ideas on Pinterest for fun kid food.
Some ideas are to make their pancakes look like a lion with orange slices for a mane, blueberries for eyes and a strawberry for the mouth.
You can help them make believe. One of my son’s favorite veggies is Broccoli! I truly believe it is because when he was young we would pretend he was a giant eating little tiny trees. That made eating broccoli fun for him and he still loves it today!
Make a plate of baby tomatoes look like Elmo.
Or better yet, let them create an imaginary world out of their food. One that they are actually allowed to put in their mouths!
5 // Let Your Kids Help Plan The Meals
Every week I ask my kids what meal they would like to eat. Granted, my kids are older, so they give me whole meals they want like black bean soup, tacos, or enchiladas. But with a smaller child this is still possible.
Ask them for certain parts of the meal. Like do you want peas or corn? If they are too young to tell you, ask them to point at what they want.
Giving them choices helps them feel a little more in control and therefore gives them a little more independence.
6 // Let Them “Help” You Cook
When your kids are little, you can give them tasks in the kitchen that are fun. Ask them to fill the bowls on the table with fruit. Set up a little station at the table to help mom cut up things. Then give them some soft veggies or fruit they can cut with a play knife or butter knife.
How many times have you told your child to not put something in their mouth while they are playing pretend? Well guess what will happen when you let them play pretend with real food, they will start putting things in their mouth. But this time you don’t have to tell them “no”.
As they get older like mine, you can have them really help you prepare meals. My daughter is a great baker at this point and I have just started teaching her to cook. But it all started with my kids slicing up red peppers with a butter knife when they were little. It is fun for them to pretend to be mom when they are small. AND, both of my kids love red peppers!
7 // Invite Friends Over
I have experienced this point many times with both eating and swimming. If your child sees their friend doing it, they will do it too. I am not gauranteeing that they will like the food that their friend is eating, but they will try it! There is something comforting for them to seeing another child eating different food vs. an adult eating it and trying to pressure them to eat it.
Bonus Tip!! If you child doesn’t want to go underwater at the pool, just find a friend who already does and that will change really quickly!
8 // Create Food Bridges
If you already know that your child likes mac and cheese, then using a food bridge to find something else they will eat is a great idea. Think about the food they like,…it is cheesy, soft, and all one color. Is there another food that is similar to that your child may like.
You may want to try overcooking some broccoli and covering it with cheese. Or maybe the same elbow macaroni but with spaghetti sauce.
Help them to venture out by finding foods that are similar in texture, color and taste to what they already like.
9 // Small Portions
Remember that your child is not as big as you are. Did you know that your stomach is only about the size of your fist?
Now that you know, you also know that your child’s stomach is much smaller than yours. Therefore, give your child the correct portion size for them and don’t expect them to clean their plate of you have given them an adult portion.
10 // Don’t Lie
Once you have lied to your child, you have broken that trust and they will never take your word for how something tastes again.
So DO NOT tell them that broccoli tastes like cotton candy or that carrots taste like orange popscicles. They are not stupid, so don’t treat them like they are.
Instead say things like, this is soft like the mac and cheese you like and you like cheese and this has cheese on it. You should try it and see if you like it.
11 // Don’t get Angry
When your child finally tries a new food but says they don’t like it, don’t get angry. I know you put a lot of time into making it “just right” for them, but you cannot make them feel guilty for having their own opinion about how a food tastes.
Remember you are trying to raise children who also can think for themselves, so again, being patient is very very important. And you never know, they may try the same food again in a year and love it! So much changes over as they get older!
12 // Less Sugar and Unhealthy Snacks
Let’s face it. If I could sit around and eat Sour Onion Pringles all day, I most certainly would. The same goes for your kids, but they don’t have as much will power as you.
Teach them good eating habits by only allowing unhealthy snacks on certain days or at certain times of day. My kids get to eat some chips as a snack before bed and they get to have a sweet everyday in their lunch.
But they are never allowed to just sit around and eat bags of doritos or jellybeans whenever they want. Eventually they will understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy eating, but when they are little, they just know that the unhealthy stuff tastes great, so they want it!
13 // Hide The Packaging
One thing that my kids have always been good at is wanting something because their favorite character is on it. Elsa from Frozen on yogurt, Minions on gummy snacks.
My suggestion is to try your hardest to not let them see the packaging. Don’t take them to the grocery if you don’t have to. Take the gummy snacks out of the package before putting them on the table. That way, they will not want to eat things just because of the packaging.
You can also try mixing some peices of fruit or veggies with the not so healthy snacks. If you give your child a few fruit snacks, also give them some mandarin oranges or peas. They are all small finger foods and hopefully your child will like eating the healthier as well!
To wrap up, here is a great video from my friend Jennifer’s YouTubeChannel, The Family Fudge. She has some great tips and advice that she uses with her son Griffin!
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As a stay at home mom myself, I have found ways to keep myself sane and organized while loving what I do …be home with my kids! After 14 years of being home, I realized other moms may benefit from some of the tips and tricks I have learned over the years. Join me to learn ways to manage your home and life as a stay at home mom so you can make time to enjoy the best part…family. Things I love…feeling motivated, Harry Potter, being outside, and digging deeper into my life and my family’s life in order to make it better. I have a Degree in Biology and am also a freelance writer.