It all started with an innocent looking jar of green beans, a six-month-old, and a white oxford shirt. With the first spoonful, my crisp work shirt was covered in green, like a paint-splattered canvas, and my baby girl had her lips puckered, her mouth locked, and refused to eat another bite. I had a picky eater on my hands. The problem? I didn’t yet know how to deal with picky eaters.
Baby girl did not like anything green, anything orange, anything with an odd texture, basically anything that was healthy for her. As a parent, having picky eaters can be very frustrating and worrisome. Are they eating enough? Are they getting the nutrition they need? Are their bad habits going to be a problem in the future?
The good news is that child development research says not to worry too much about how to deal with picky eaters. Selective eating often occurs during ages one to three. While significant growth occurs in the first year of a baby’s life, growing slows down during the second year. On top of that, toddlers are learning so many other fun new skills, like walking, running, and climbing, which are much more interesting than eating. Plus, with a stomach the size of her clenched fist, your toddler isn’t capable of eating large amounts at a time.
However, don’t make the mistake of becoming a short-order cook for the picky eaters in your family. You’ll exhaust your time, energy, and patience trying to appease everyone. Instead, here are a few tips you can use to help your family deal with picky eaters:
Don’t Force the Issue
Avoid bribery or force to get your child to clean his plate or eat certain foods. You don’t want your child to associate eating with frustration, anxiety, or a power struggle. Minimize distractions, like the television or toys at the table, so that your child can focus on eating. Even if he doesn’t eat, encourage your toddler to stay at the table until the family is done eating.
Let Kids Help
Letting children pick out healthy items at the grocery store and help to prepare a meal gives them ownership and familiarity with all types of foods. When toddlers lend a hand with the measuring, pouring, and stirring, they will most likely try to taste the final product as well.
Offer Healthy Options
Stock your fridge with items like yogurt, cheese, fruits, and vegetables. Make sure there are more healthy options in your pantry than unhealthy ones, like whole grain crackers, pretzels, and dried fruits. Try to eat healthy foods yourself, and make sure your child sees you eating healthy foods.
Drink Fruits and Vegetables
Sometimes, drinking essential vitamins and nutrients can be much easier than eating them. Smoothies are fast, easy, and packed with nutrition vital to your child’s health. Try some of these yummy smoothie recipes to get picky eaters to drink their fruits and veggies (psst…you can’t even taste the spinach!),
Serve Food on a Stick
When trying to get my daughter to eat, I discovered something brilliant that was right under my nose: toothpicks! It’s amazing what kids will eat when it is skewered on a stick. A favorite in our house is apple and cheese cube kabobs. You can also try other fruits, vegetables, lunch meat, chicken, small meatballs, pasta noodles, or some of these variations here.
As parents, we’re entitled to a little subterfuge and when it comes to getting kids to eat things like cauliflower and kale, sometimes we have to be downright sneaky. Ever heard of black bean brownies? How about carrot mac and cheese? These popular books are sure to get your picky eater eating all kinds of nutritious foods, without even knowing it.
Never Give Up
Don’t give up trying to introduce new foods. Stick to a routine of breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same times every day. Make sure that at each meal, there is something your toddler likes and recognizes, plus a few new, healthy foods on the same plate. She may not try them, but children need to be offered a new food as many as 15 times before they will eat them. Make sure to give your toddler small portions of whatever you are eating as well—a good example goes a long way.
Baby girl is now five years old and heading to Kindergarten. Although she is still a little more selective than her younger siblings, the good news is that her eating habits have gotten much better. Every meal gets easier and she is trying new things and discovering that she actually likes them. Green beans, however…we’re still working on.
Holidays can present some of the hardest times for picky eaters. Here’s some help.