Finding food for picky eaters can be really tricky! In fact, before having kids, I used to say: “I want my kids to try everything. It is not okay for them to pick and choose. They will eat what is on their plates, so that they get the healthy food they need and so that they can learn to be polite at other people’s homes as well.” . . .And then I had kids.
And I still had these lofty ambitions. Unfortunately for me all three of my kids inherited a very active gag reflex (they come by it naturally, as I threw up everything as a kid). This pretty much ruined my plans. Every time I tried to force my kids to at least try something, or to finish their plate I would end up with them throwing up their whole dinner or lunch all over the table. So…that was fun.
So I decided I needed to flexible and creative.
One of the things I tried to do early on was to make eating fun. Make the table a place where everyone feels relaxed and peaceful. Laugh a lot. Talk about your day. Smile and stay peaceful. When feeding are kiddos the spoon often became a choo choo train, an airplane, or a rocket coming in for landing. Use distraction. But not with the TV or cell phone…it’s a habit that is hard to break later. Use distraction with silly songs, stories or just talking with everyone at the table. We also used rewards. If you eat 10 bites of your pasta, then you can have some juice (or whatever else it was they desired, at our table it is usually bread).
One of the things that has helped over the years has been making food fun. Both at parties, and every day, I try to make food to fit a theme. Cut food into shapes. Use cookie cutters or sandwich cutters, but sometimes heart shaped cucumbers are just more appealing. Give food a name: Carrots become Olaf’s nose, Spaghetti noodles are Rapunzel’s hair, celery becomes rabbit’s food.
Another way to encourage kids to eat is creating something with the food itself. I have made apple crabs, Banana octopus, fruit kebabs, apple frogs, pear turkeys, Dora sandwiches….well, really every sandwich shape imaginable!
Get creative and have fun. You can even have your kiddos help you out! It’s a great way to get them interested and maybe even snacking while you create.
Some other a-maz-ing food artists in the gallery below… They take food art to a whole new level. Click the links to visit their webpage.
The most important thing that I have learned is: DON’T GIVE UP! Be patient and keep trying. Tastes change. Just think of how your tastes have changed over the years. My daughter doesn’t like pasta. She refused to eat tortellini for years. Two years ago she ate tortellini at a friend’s house and decided she loves them! She would eat them every day now if she could. My other daughter hated broccoli as a little girl. Now if I make broccoli pesto she will eat it with no complaints! Keep trying.
Talk about why you want your kids to try things. Explain. As they get older it helps them to understand why you are “forcing” them to eat something they don’t like. I often say, “We don’t eat food because we like it, we eat it because it helps our body grow and stay healthy. And to grow and stay healthy we need to eat a variety of healthy foods.” We have explained that we want them to be able to enjoy traveling and experiencing new foods, to be polite when they are a guest at someone else’s house and many other reasons. You won’t convince a 2 year old to try anything with explanations, but a 7 year old can understand.
If they are healthy and they are growing then try not to worry. I worried about our 2nd born a lot. Our first born ate everything and he ate a ton. And then came baby girl and she was crazy picky and barely ate. She was always slightly under average for weight and slightly over the average for height. My pediatrician was great. She would always tell me, if she is maintaining her curve and she is healthy, then she is getting enough. And she did. Sometimes we worry more than we need to. And often they will come around. That little one who barely ate anything is the most brave of my 3 kiddos, often willing to try new things. So hang in there! It will likely get better.
*Note: If with your child’s refusal to eat, they are also having problems with diarrhea, vomiting or cramping, see a doctor. It is likely not just a picky eater but could be a food allergy or intollerance.