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How to Deal With a Picky Eater: Some Encouragement and Tips!

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Picky Eating: Is it a Big Issue, or Just a Phase?

There are several different schools of thought when it comes to children and so-called "picky eaters." Some people argue that kids today are catered to all too much when it comes to their meals. They say that parents should not turn into "short order cooks" for their kids—scurrying around the kitchen desperately preparing separate meals for all of them and hoping they'll eat something. Others say that picky eating is just a phase that most toddlers and small children will eventually grow out of. What do you think?

Perhaps it is a combination of both. Maybe children in this generation are given too many choices, and it should be more like it was in the past, when you were served your dinner and that was it. There were no more options unless you ate what was placed in front of you. Plus, Mom and Dad were quick to remind you about starving kids in other countries if you were reluctant to clean your plate. However, maybe picky eating is more common in some kids than others, and, maybe, if given some positive encouragement and time, most children will grow out of this phase and become more adventurous eaters as they mature.

I don't have all the answers and am currently working on this issue in my own life with my picky 3-year-old. However, here are a few tricks and tips I've learned through this whole food journey. Maybe something you find here will help or at least comfort you. You're not alone!

Disguise Healthy Food in Shakes and Smoothies

One way I've found that works pretty well to get some protein into my son, who decided to become a virtual vegetarian a while back, is to make protein shakes or smoothies. He calls them "shakey shakes". Lately, I've been blending up a scoop of toddler protein powder (vanilla flavored), a banana (or half a banana for a smaller shake), a tablespoon of peanut butter, and a bit of honey, along with some milk. Then I pour it into two small Mickey cups, one for me and one for him. He enjoys it, and it also makes a great lactation shake for me, since I'm nursing my baby as well! It's also fun for him to see Mommy having some "shakey shake" with him. Another alternative, if you need to get more veggies into your child's diet, is to blend up some frozen fruit, a banana, and milk or water, along with a tiny bit of frozen kale or other veggies. I've even peeled some zucchini and blended it up in my son's shake and he did not even notice! There are many great recipes out there for healthy smoothies and shakes. Try getting your child a fun cup with a swirly straw or a friendly character on the cup that they like. Making it fun and entertaining will ensure that the whole process is enjoyable for them, making it more likely that they will drink the shake or smoothie the next time.

Make Eating a Fun, Positive Experience

  • Put out a food tray with many different items on it, including some new foods and some your child has not tried before.
  • Stay positive and happy; keep it lighthearted
  • Eat together, as a family, if possible
  • Use lots of dips and finger foods, such as dipping carrots and cut-up cucumbers in ranch dressing. Kids love dipping things
  • Dipping apple in peanut butter is another good idea (one my son's favorites as well!)
  • Create little faces on your chilren's food, such as pancakes with blueberry eyes and a strawberry mouth, etc.

Disguise Nutrients in Brownies, Muffins, etc.

My son loves muffins, but he hates eggs. I've tried so hard to get him to eat scrambled eggs, but the boy just will not have it! (He hasn't acquired the taste for ketchup yet, either). However, if I make muffins for him, he has no way of knowing that they are chock full of nutrient-rich eggs! Try baking some breakfast-style egg and cheese muffins for your little one.

Another item I'm excited to try is black bean brownies. I've heard that the beans are not noticeable, and it sounds like a great way to get some protein into my little picky eater! Of course, I will only let him have some after he's already eaten some lunch or dinner first. I might even see if my husband will notice the black beans as well, since he's been known to be a picky eater at times, too!

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It's Normal for Kids to Latch Onto "Favorite Foods" for Awhile

I'm noticing a pattern with my son that has been going on for a while now. He latches onto favorite foods for a while, until he moves on to something else. Right now, he likes french fries a lot. So what I do is, I cut up a potato and put some seasoning on it (or just salt) and I bake it in the toaster oven for about 15 minutes. Then I wait for his fries to cool and he eats them just like that. Sometimes, I also buy organic pre-made fries from someplace like Sprouts. He also loves chips and guacamole. Although I would rather him not eat chips, I do tolerate it because I'm so happy to see him eating the guacamole. Another favorite food of his right now, is just plain toast with butter on it. He has a couple of pieces of whole wheat toast with butter, per day. Today, I tried unsuccessfully to get him to eat it with peanut butter on it. For some reason, he only wanted toast with plain butter. Yet he slurped down a "shakey" I made him that had peanut butter in it! Go figure. Sometimes I get myself all worked up over the fact that he is repetitive in his eating habits, and wants to eat these same foods over and over. But what's the point of getting upset? These foods he is eating, are pretty healthy, and he's a toddler who is going through a phase of liking certain favorite foods. I've noticed that when I relax about it, we are both calmer and eating is a lot less stressful and more of a positive experience. As I allow him to eat his favorite foods, I can gradually introduce new items and hopefully he will feel the freedom to branch out a little bit in this area, if I am not "forcing" it on him, so to speak.

"Clean Your Plate, or Nothing Else"

I don't think the concept of "cleaning your plate" or you get "nothing else" to eat is going to work in my household. Tonight, I made a slow-cooker pot roast meal for my family. I tried in vain to have my son at least try one bite of the roast, potatoes, and carrot. I sat him in his chair and asked him to try some, but he refused. I then gave him a bath, got him into his pajamas and nursed his brother, and still he refused to give in and say he was hungry and would try it. Finally, I ended up giving him buttered toast and a peanut butter shake. I am torn on how to feel. Should I be glad that he got the nutrition from the toast and shake, or should I consider it a loss, since he didn't try the healthy roast and veggies, etc.? The whole thing made eating dinner seem like a negative experience. However, sometimes discipline and doing the right thing can seem very hard at the time. Honestly, all I think I can do at this point is what I feel is right for our family, which is to continue giving my son healthy food options, and also introducing new things whenever I can. The whole "clean your plate" idea, may not work on him at this point. Maybe that is not how everyone does it, but perhaps that is alright. Once again, there are different schools of thought on this. But if you have a picky eater and are struggling in this area, I hope it at least comforts you to know that you're not alone! Please let me know what you think in the comments.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 21, 2016:

All your efforts are commendable. I especially like your suggestion to have the family eat together. Eventually they try the foods that are in sight and discover that they can eat what the rest of the family eats. Always preparing separate meals for them is not good preparation for life outside the home. Best to you going forward!

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