So I’m not an expert on this topic. I’m not claiming that this will work on every child, and I think that even if someone tries all of these things, they may still have a picky eater. My husband and I would consider ourselves “foodies” and the thought of having to limit our nightly menus due to a child with a picky palate was less than desirable. So we set out very early on with our first to try every trick we could think of to prevent a picky eater. Below are the 8 food rules we live by…
1) Exposure – I think this was the biggest contributor to Brogan being a good eater. We fed him everything we ate, and there’s not much that we don’t eat.
2) Real food first – I have come to terms with the fact that it is nearly impossible to keep my boys away from all processed food or fast food. But we made every effort to start them out on the real stuff. So that’s what Brogan got used to – sure he’ll eat fries and nuggets, but he always goes back to his favorites like broccoli, couscous and tomatoes.
3) Try things 10 times – When Brogan was first born, I read somewhere that babies/kids need to try something 10 times before it can be determined if they really like it or not. Apparently most stop trying after 3 attempts. We’ve gone through numerous foods that Brogan would spit out each time we tried, and then one day he liked it!
4) Avoid kid-food stereotypes – I get so frustrated when I see the kid’s menu at some restaurants – most things are fried and there is little to no veggie selection. Some people think that kids only like hot dogs, fries and pepperoni on their pizza. We took the opposite approach. When we started giving Brogan pizza, it had toppings like peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes. Yes, he’s had pepperoni and he likes it, but he prefers other toppings. I think sometimes people feed their kids what kids are “supposed” to like, and what happens? They end up liking it, because they get used to it. So get them used to the healthy stuff, and they will like that too!
5) Always talk positively about food – Kids are smart and they are always listening. They also want to be just like the adults in their lives. We have a strict rule around our kids to not speak negatively about any food. Even if we don’t like something, we don’t assume our boys won’t too, and we certainly never talk about it. Everything is given the introduction, “this is so yummy!” or “you’re going to love this!” We try to let Brogan make his own decisions about what he likes and what he doesn’t without being influenced by the opinions of others. We’re really hoping that by the time he goes to school his tastes will be established enough to not be swayed by what the other kids say (but we’re not holding our breath).
6) Give them options – Let me clarify, the option is not “do you want to eat what I cooked for dinner or another snack”, but rather allowing kids to be part of the food decisions and feel a sense of ownership of the meal. The options are, do you want spinach or asparagus, or do you want salmon or chicken. While it’s not always possible to give my son options, when we do, he gets excited about mealtime.
7) Don’t make them finish their plate – My mother-in-law swears that she is a picky eater because she was made to sit at the table until she finished her plate. I think there is a lot of merit to her theory and believe it goes hand in hand with not being negative about food. Making a kid do anything they don’t want to do can quickly turn into a negative, rebellious experience. Don’t get me wrong, if Brogan doesn’t eat a good dinner, he does not get to eat anything else that night. In fact, we will keep the food left on his plate and if he’s hungry later, that’s what he gets. We do play the “one more bite” game, but when he says he’s really done, we remind him that’s all he’ll be able to eat that night and let him down from the table.
8) Let them help cook – Brogan loves to “help” cook. We let him help by adding ingredients, throwing away the scraps and stirring every once in a while. This one can be frustrating, especially when mine wants to take control and it’s “let me do it” and “I can handle it” and “I want to do it by myself” over and over and over again. But on the plus side, he gets a sense of accomplishment from contributing to the dinner and this translates to his enthusiasm about eating it too.
We don’t cook adult meals and kid meals in our home. We try to cook from scratch, using real ingredients. We eat lots of veggies. We try new things. We tried really hard with our first, and so far, he’s a great eater! He doesn’t like everything all the time, but when I hear him say “brussel sprouts make me happy” I feel like I’ve done something right. Now who knows with our second one. He’s almost 14 months old and still getting used to table food. Out of the gate, he’s a little more finicky than Brogan was, (I would blame this on my self-admitted not-quite-on-top-of-it approach to raising him thus far – see my 2nd Kid post). But all we can do is keep trying!