“I don’t like this!”
“I don’t want to try a bite!”
“I want ________!”
If these phrases are familiar at meal time, you probably have a picky eater. Keeping fussy kids nourished can be a challenge, but here are some strategies that might help.
Keep yourself sane by having everyone in your family eat the same meal rather than preparing different dishes for each person. It can be tricky to make one meal when different members of the family like different foods, but everyone will survive the experience and you won’t turn into a short order cook.
For example, when packing school lunches for my kids, both girls get the same items. One of my daughters loves peanut butter and jelly, but the other isn’t crazy about it. Therefore, they only have it once a week. That way one gets her favorite and the other doesn’t have to deal with it too often.
I know moms who give each member of the family his or her favorite foods every day, and it takes too much of their time, is too expensive, and results in picky kids (and husbands) who have limited taste palates and unbalanced diets.
At meal time, encourage everyone to try each item on the plate (within reason—don’t make the kids eat spicy sauces, overly pungent items, or anything that will hurt their mouths). If a child doesn’t like something, he doesn’t need to eat it as long as he tries a bite every time it appears on the plate. A child who didn’t like broccoli last week still has to try it this week since many tastes are acquired after several exposures.
If a child doesn’t like anything on the plate, or eats but is still hungry, he is welcomed to get something else. In my house this means the kids can select something from the meat drawer in our refrigerator. This drawer is stocked with acceptable substitutes, such as lunch meat (keep it nitrate/nitrite free if they eat it often), cheese slices/sticks, cups of plain Greek yogurt they can flavor with fresh fruit or nuts, baby carrots, pea pods, and other things the kids can eat in place of (or in addition to) the dinner I prepared.
In order to replace a dinner, or add to one, with items from the drawer, kids must clear their dinner dishes, get the new food items themselves, and clean up after themselves. Selecting this choice should not make extra work for mom—the kids need to do it independently. Fill the drawer with things that make independence possible.
Make sure the kids ask before going into the drawer, or before getting anything to eat themselves. That way you can monitor what they eat, when, and how much they consume. Also, teach your kids to respect the fact that everything in the fridge isn’t theirs. You may have plans for groceries you’ve purchased, so set clear limits on what the kids can take from the refrigerator or pantry.
If a child won’t try a particular food, don’t fight about it. Simply let your child know that he does not need to eat, but that there won’t be any other foods available until he tries a bite of everything on the plate. If he fuses about this, let him cool off in time out. Food is not worth arguing over.
Is meal preparation stressful for you? If so, what can you do to make it easier? What resources do you need?
Get more ideas for making meal time pleasant in a Smarter Parenting Teleclass. Register today at www.MotheringLikeTheFather.com on the Parent Coaching Page.