I want to share a little about the struggle I had with my oldest son and his picky eating habits. When he was a baby, he would eat everything, any type of baby food I had, he gobbled it up. Then he was very slow getting teeth, and as a first time mom, I was nervous to give him any foods he might choke on. I stuck with the foods I was comfortable giving him, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, cereal, pancakes, and the like.
I was nervous to give him the “normal” foods he ate in pureed form, and I didn’t know how to prepare them in a way he could eat them. I was a little misguided, and have paid for over the last few years.
He has become a perpetually picky eater, and is nervous to try any new foods. My mom-conscience told me he needed to be eating fruits and vegetables, so I began trying to include them in the foods he would eat. I added applesauce instead of oil in the pancakes, I added pureed carrots in the macaroni and cheese. I purchased a cookbook about adding pureed vegetables and fruits in “kid-friendly” recipes. It didn’t work. The result was he became hesitant to eat even the foods that had become a staple in his diet.
I became anxious about his health and development. I didn’t want to mess up growth and brain development. We started trying several different methods to encourage trying new foods and introducing healthier options. We tried charts with stickers, we tried sending him to bed without dinner, we tried making him sit at the table until he ate, we tried bargaining the new foods for a cookie, none of these options worked.
We learned from our mistakes, and while we are far from finished with this frustration, we are making progress. Here are some of the tips that have helped my son try new foods:
I can’t stress enough how important consistency is with all aspects of parenting, but it is particularly important in this area.
We had to introduce the same foods more than once. We had to encourage him to try new foods every night. To prevent constant distress, our compromise was lunch. He got to choose his lunch option, but dinnertime meant trying the new foods. We had green beans three nights in a row so he would become familiar with them and not panic each time there were green beans served with dinner.
This consistency still plays a role in our family dinners. We try to eat a home cooked meal most week nights to stay consistent with providing new, healthy foods. When we lapse, and I make macaroni and cheese or offer chicken nuggets for dinner, it takes longer to get him to eat dinner the next night.
Our son wouldn’t even eat some of the basic “kid” foods like marshmallows, hot dogs, or peanut butter sandwiches. (Lucky us right?) We began by introducing foods we knew he would enjoy once he tried them. We applied the consistency rule and offered these new “kid” foods frequently and began rotating them into his lunch options. Once his fear of new foods began to reduce somewhat, we moved onto fruits and vegetables. We started with bananas and apples, then moved into corn and green beans. We would still be sitting at that dinner table if we had tried to get him to eat Brussels sprouts in the beginning!
Allow them to choose
While the initial bargaining didn’t work, our son started developing his own bargaining options once he realized we were serious about him trying new foods (again, the importance of consistency). He started to say, “I’ll eat one bite of this if I can chew it three times and then swallow it with water.” Agreed!
He wanted to have some control over trying the new foods, and once he felt that control it started taking less time to finish dinner. Now he has started bargaining with the desserts he wants. We have become flexible with how many bites of each food are required. He’s six now, so typically it is six bites of the new food, but with some foods he really doesn’t like (mashed potatoes), he gets to decide how many bites would be considered fair.
Doesn’t that seem like the key to all parenting tips? I am not a naturally patient person, luckily my husband is, and has helped me practice more patience. We still have some nights that take over an hour at the dinner table. I get tired of waiting for him to finish and want to start nagging him about eating. This makes him more anxious and his emotional memory of the food becomes marred. He develops a distaste for the food simply because he was stressed when he ate it. When we give him the time to eat it on his own terms (sometimes reheating it a couple of times) he can appreciate the taste and is less resistant to try it the next night.
Lead by example
Another caveat of parenting, but once again applicable in this situation. It is important for our son to see that his parents are willing to try new foods as well. I like experimenting in the kitchen and trying new recipes. When I do, we make sure to tell our son that this is a new recipe (sometimes a new food as well), and we may or may not like it. It is also important to help him understand that we don’t all like the same foods, but we need to keep trying the healthy foods so we can get the nutrients our bodies need.
Have you had struggles with picky eating? What have you done to help your children overcome these habits? What are some of your favorite “kid-friendly” healthy recipes?