When I talk to parents about their kids nutrition, by far I hear the most… “My kid won’t eat veggies, no matter what I do.” A picky eater can be so frustrating. Mealtime goes from something enjoyable to a war zone. You end up cooking like eight meals a day because everyone is eating something different. Ultimately you know your kid isn’t getting the nutrients they need… because they are eating like three different foods. This is such a lose, lose.
My husband and I always say, “if we don’t like something… let’s change it.” Sometimes that means something simple like the trashing of a loud toy. Sometimes it means trying and trying things till we get it figured out. Getting your kids to eat is one of these things. Mealtime together is an important family time, and it is worth making the effort to figure out. Childhood is such an important time developmentally, and your kids need good fats and nutrients.
A great place to start with a picky eater… why are they being picky? I believe there are four main reasons why a kid is being picky. You know your kid better than anyone. Keep reading and figure out why your kid is picky.
This is what you think it is… they are exercising their independence. It is such a great thing when kids start having opinions, likes and dislikes, but meantime doesn’t get to be controlled by this. They have figured out they can control meal time, and they are going with it. Think about it… if you could eat pizza for dinner every night wouldn’t you? But you don’t, because you know the consequences of that. You don’t let your kid watch TV all day (most days), because you know playing is what is best for them. Why is mealtime any different?
Mealtime isn’t about forcing, it is about teaching. You are teaching them knew things. Remember how much fun it was to watch your kid’s reaction to that first bite of food. That hasn’t stopped… you are still showing and teaching them new foods.
Signs this is your kid: Mealtime involves trickery, rewards, and manipulation. They are acting out. I am not talking about crying that seems like it is anxiety related. I am talking about throwing food on the ground, proposing alternative meals than what is given, and saying things like “if I eat this i get dessert.”
Ideas to Help:
Stop using rewards to get them to eat and start establishing some rules around mealtime.
Rewarding establishes value. “If you eat your dinner, you get dessert.” Right away you are establishing with your kid that they should really want dessert. Yes they do really want dessert, but you are reinforcing that they should want dessert more than dinner. Dinner should be an expectation of them, not something that is rewarded. Dessert should be something special, not an expectation they have.
Establish some ground rules for dinner. Explain that you are going to serve one meal and that is it. I know you are thinking,”then my kid won’t eat.” That is okay. Always serve something familiar to them, something you know they will like. This way you know there is something on their plate that they will finish. Then make another rule that they have to have one bite to be polite. I feel like this should be a Daniel the tiger song. Oh and quick google search - it is! “Try new foods, cause it might taste good.”
Some kids are creatures of habit. I always said before i had my first kid, “I will have a flexible baby that doesn’t need a schedule.” That was a total joke, he decided otherwise. Ya we could not have him on a schedule, but we would never sleep. He is a creature of routine. By having a routine around meals it creates a schedule for “hunger.” If they aren’t given the ability to snack all day, when they sit down at the table they are not hungry. This in turn encourages them to eat.
A routine around mealtime establishes a few things. It creates safety and makes them more comfortable. They know what is coming, even if it is a food they have never had before.
Signs this is your kid: They aren’t hungry at mealtime, and you know this is because they snacked all day. They are playing while they eat. Mealtime seems stressful to them, like something new they don’t know what to do with.
Ideas to Help:
Get on a meal time schedule, even for snacks. Control the location of the meals as much as possible.
Out of Their Control
There are two reasons that a kid might have a hard time with at mealtime that are out of their control. They have food allergies and they feel bad after eating, or they literally have anxiety about trying new things.
Signs this is your kid:
Food allergies - complains after meals about not feeling well, constipation, rashes, and lots of gas.
Anxiety - you feel like their meltdowns around dinner are much more serious than the norm. I feel like if this is your kid, you know it.
Ideas to Help:
If it is food allergies you need to do an elimination diet and really figure out what is bothering them. This way they aren’t scared of how they feel after a meal. Typical allergy foods: dairy, gluten, eggs, and soy
If it is anxiety you can reason with them, trick them into it, or get them involved. What I mean here is explain to them all the good things food does for their bodies. You can also hide the new foods in things like spaghetti sauce. There is research to support if they are involved with grocery shopping or cooking they are less likely to feel anxiety about eating new foods. Don’t fear if you feel you can’t overcome this… most kids outgrow this by age four.
This is the one most people just assume out the gate is making their kid a picky eater. They just don’t like the way it tastes… “they don’t like vegetables”. It can go further than this though to texture, smell, and color. It is interesting though because our senses all work together. Make something visually appealing or taste good, and it may override another sense.
Signs this is your kid: Honestly, if you have read all the other ones and don’t think they are your kid, then this one is it.
Ideas to Help:
The main way to solve this problem is to make dinner interactive, visually appealing, and fun. You don’t have to do them all at once, but try one at a time. Buy small cookie cutters to cut a new fruit out in a fun shape. Get a fun children’s plate, like this one. There is research that shows even having different foods separated on your plate makes it more appealing. Get creative around meal time!