I will be the first to admit that I have a couple of difficult eaters in my house and I get how frustrating it can be. When I was growing up, what my mom cooked was what we ate. There were no optional dinners. There is no perfect answer in how to deal with this, but what I have learned is that my husband and I are the dominant influence in what our kids eat, how they see food, and what they know about food. In a culture of busyness, rushing, and fast food chains everywhere you turn, it makes it difficult to make good choices and be disciplined in what we eat and how we eat. If you struggle in this, I hope you can be encouraged and empowered to know you CAN change a picky eater into a well-balanced and happy eater!
For example, the other night we were having an arugula salad with grapefruit, oranges, and avocado. As our kids tried it, I could start to see squinted faces and mouths frown. I began to prepare for the battle about to ensue. Instead, I chose a different approach. I asked “Hey, who can tell me the name of this lettuce and what nutrients it has?” For the next few minutes or so the kids all tried to guess what it was and it basically distracted them from the salad they think they didn’t like. I felt so victorious! There were no issues, until the end of dinner when one kid did a sneak attack and suddenly would not finish their salad. Darn! I was so close to victory! It turned into a typical back and forth food battle. My husband took charge and stayed calm yet stern and she did indeed finish their salad. I am pretty certain this child did not walk away from the table loving arugula salad, however, we will definitely make it again! The kids so frequently say they don’t like something but if they try it enough times will learn to like it or at least tolerate it.
Trust me, I have had many failures as a parent where I got super frustrated and would overreact, threaten, bribe, reason, argue, lecture, and give in when my kids wouldn’t eat something. And guess what? None of it made them better eaters and I remained frustrated. The book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon created a paradigm shift for me. This book is fantastic and I highly recommend it if you are seeking help with picky eaters. It inspired me and gave me tips to make mealtimes at our table fun, relaxing, and enjoyable while also teaching the kids more about how and what to eat. We still have food battles, like the one with the arugula salad, however, there has been definite progress as Paul and I made some new habits in creating a healthy food culture in our family.
Here are some tips we implement:
- We eat home-cooked meals together at the table frequently
- We praise our kids when they try something new or they don’t like
- When a kid doesn’t like something, we will still make it again!
- We no longer use dessert as a reward for eating something they don’t like
- We speak regularly about food, cooking, processes, nutrition, flavors, etc.
- We have them help us in the kitchen. Learning to cook gives our kids confidence and a sense of pride, which motivates them to try new foods.
- We have our kids explore cookbooks/recipes and if they find one that interests them, we let them do it. Of course, they will be drawn to desserts! HA! (who wouldn’t?)
- We regularly cook different cuisines so that they are exposed to different flavors from all over the world.
- We tend to veer away from “kid meals” at restaurants as they are not usually nutritious, and we will have our youngest kids split an adult meal.
If you are struggling in this or have any questions/comments, I would love to connect with you!
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