Six ways to tame a picky eater

Is your child a picky eater? Do you find yourself being a short order cook just to get your little one to eat something, anything? If so, it’s time to stop the madness. Being finicky is not a condition you have to live with and it’s not something that is hardwired into your kids. Here are tips for avoiding having a selective eater or turning one around to being more open to different foods.

Just try one bite

Growing up, my mom required that my siblings and I eat a least one bite of all of the foods on our plate. Kids being kids, anything related to vegetables was to be avoided. But, I often discovered that once I took a bite I actually liked what I was served. I remember especially liking cooked spinach once I got past that first bite. This wasn’t always the case. It took me many years before I liked brussel sprouts and I still don’t love lima beans. But, your child will not truly know if she likes something or not if she doesn’t take a bite. The first time she eats it she may reject it. Don’t stop serving the item and requiring a bite just because she didn’t like it the first time. Kids’ palates change over time. What looked or tasted awful at one time may end up being a favorite food later.

Share the cooking experience

Make food accessible and interesting to kids by including them in the shopping and cooking. Maybe once a month you and your child can pick out a recipe together. Then shop together for the ingredients. Make sure the recipe includes vegetables – they can be kid friendly vegetables like carrots, green beans or peas, or try something a little more unfamiliar yet still common.  Then cook the meal together. Depending on your child’s age he could add ingredients or scrape what was cut into the bowl. Have him stir things. Keep it fun and light. Avoid criticizing your child if he does something wrong.

Grow vegetables

If you have a little bit of a garden or even a patio that gets some sun you can grow a few vegetables with your child. Go to the store together and purchase the seeds or the starts. Let your child plant them in the garden or container. Water them together and comment on how the seeds or starts are growing. Share your excitement and wonder with your child. When the vegetables are ready, harvest your bounty and serve it up to your kiddo. She is going to be much more interested in eating the item if she helped cultivate it.

Role model adventurous eating

Your child picks up on your likes and dislikes. If you eat the same kinds of foods on a regular basis your child will only be comfortable with those foods. You don’t have to eat exotic or scary foods that a normal person wouldn’t eat, but try to incorporate some ethnically diverse foods and new fruits and vegetables into your meals. Show your willingness to eat different foods. Avoid saying you don’t like something. If you say you don’t like something it’s very likely your child will reject that food as well. Let her decide if she likes it or not.

If cooking diverse foods seems daunting, go out to a restaurant that serves those foods. Growing up we frequently went to Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and other ethnic restaurants. It helped me to learn to love ethnically diverse foods.

We have a nephew who visited us for a week who had never eaten raspberries or peaches (and he was from the south!!). At first he refused to eat them. Then, upon our insistence that he try them he said they were okay but he wouldn’t seek them out. Eventually during his visit he started to enjoy those luscious fruits. He is now a grown adult who regularly eats and enjoys raspberries and peaches.

In my last children’s manners class two of the children were extremely picky. They wouldn’t eat anything – nope on the minestrone soup, nope on the pasta with tomato sauce, yes on the ice cream but they wouldn’t touch the strawberries that were on the ice cream while the other kids eagerly ate them. I realized they had probably never been exposed to strawberries and the other foods they were served that day and therefore didn’t trust it was edible. The moral of the story is expose your kids to as many foods as possible so they are more likely to want to eat something served them when away from home.

Don’t alter the menu

Make it your policy that what is on your child’s plate is what your child will eat. If you are introducing something new, try to have some familiar foods your child likes on the plate so that if he rejects the new food, he at least has something to eat that he enjoys. However, if he won’t eat what he is served do not, under any circumstances, make something else for your child. Sure, he will go hungry, but he’ll learn very fast that not eating what he’s served does not mean he gets to request something else. He doesn’t have to eat everything on his plate, but do require at least one bite of everything he is served before allowing him to eat dessert or a snack of his preference.

I remember switching my cat from canned food to raw food. We had to do it because the canned food was causing inflammatory bowel disease and she was not going to make it if we didn’t switch her to an additive-free, meat only diet. Well at first she turned her nose up at it. But, I didn’t give in and serve her the canned food. I let her get hungry. She eventually ate the raw food and realizing she would not be served anything else she became an eager raw food eater.

Stay positive

While you do want to encourage your child to try different foods, don’t force it. You don’t want her to equate kale with being yelled at. She will never like kale. Stay positive and encouraging. Praise even the smallest step in the right direction – “Good job eating a bite of asparagus. You are a brave girl.”

Lastly, do not resign yourself to having a picky eater. If you follow these tips your child will eventually become an eater who is open to trying unfamiliar or seemingly scary foods. You can do it!!

Do you have a picky eater? What has worked for you to get your little one to try different foods?

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