When my daughter was born, we knew very little about having children. It had been about 15 years since I last babysat and our nieces and nephews all lived in other states. However, through observing our siblings and friends with their kids, I knew one thing. I wanted my daughter to eat. I wanted her to experience new foods, try new things, make up her own mind.
My husband and I like a lot of the same foods, but the importance we put on foods is very different. I am literally always thinking about my next meal. I am either planning what it will be, changing my mind on what I have ready to eat, wishing a couple of more hours had gone by so that I could eat the meal I was looking forward to, or something else related to food. I like to have a plan. I’m pretty sure my husband is one of those guys who could come home from work, open the refrigerator and just figure out what is in there to eat. Not me – I have to be in the mood for something. I also have to be in the mood to cook.
When I go to restaurants I like to try different things. We have local restaurants that we go to often and I try to not get the same meal more than a couple of times in a row. My husband has one meal at each restaurant that he loves and he orders that the majority of the times we go there. If it’s not broke, why fix it?
When my daughter started eating solid foods, we experimented with a lot of different foods. But she had her favorites and we admittedly always had those ready in case what we were eating didn’t appeal to her. She ate a carrot, peas, and corn medley most days with some chicken. She ate the chili we ate. She loved black beans. She ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She ate meatballs and pasta. Over time, her tastes changed a bit and she refused to eat cooked carrots and chicken. I’m not kidding, I can’t get this kid to eat a chicken nugget. She also rejects French fries and potatoes of all kinds. Secretly, I’m proud that she won’t eat these things, but sometimes it would be easier and cheaper if she would just eat the things off a kids menu. At the same time, she was eating mussels and fish. She loved steak. She was willing to try most anything we asked her to if we didn’t use the words potato or chicken when describing it.
Now at 3.5 years old. She hates everything. She hasn’t eaten a cooked carrot in two years. She won’t eat chicken. All of the sudden she hates broccoli (this is my favorite vegetable and we eat it a lot). At times she hates milk. Part of this has to do with the fact that she is three years old (I’m convinced the tantrums at three years old are so much worse than the tantrum at two years old). Part of the problem is that she doesn’t nap as often as she should. The last part of the problem is she’s asserting her independence in any way she can and sometimes she just wants to be different than Mom and Dad.
I’ve spent weeks of frustrating meals where all I heard was “I hate this.” I actually like to plan meals and come up with new things for us to try. So I took this as an opportunity to put new meals into our routine in an attempt to find something she would like.
That was the wrong strategy. I was putting a lot of work into meal planning and cooking and I was just be met with “I hate this.” I tried not to take it too personally. So one week, I had my daughter and husband suggest meals for the following week. She wanted macaroni and cheese. The bright orange kind that comes from a box. Okay, I can handle that for a meal. My husband gave a number of more useful suggestions and we had a plan. She didn’t hate the macaroni and cheese the first night but she sure didn’t want to eat it as leftovers.
I went to the library and got books. We were planning a trip to visit my parents and I had my Mom get some cookbooks for picky eaters from their library because I actually have time to read there. I looked up ideas on Pinterest. I read a number books and cookbooks on how to deal with picky eaters. For all of this reading, there were a few things made sense to me and I wished I had thought of it prior to reading this book were:
- Sneak vegetables in anywhere. One suggestion was to cook broccoli, process it in a food processor and mix it in the macaroni and cheese. My husband would hate this along with my daughter, so I haven’t tried it, but the idea makes sense. Now I throw a couple of carrots (raw baby carrots are the only acceptable kind my daughter will tolerate) on most plates I serve her. If she eats one, it’s a win. Mix peas into rice. Go heavy on the beans in the chili I make.
- Dipping it makes it fun and edible: Sometimes, the act of dipping and playing with a sauce that tastes good, makes the child forget that they are eating something you want them to eat. We’ve embraced this strategy a little bit.
- Ketchup isn’t the work of the devil. The book mentioned giving kids ketchup everytime chicken was served. I don’t notice a sugar high from it, but by dinner time, my daughter is usually so exhausted from not napping, that not much can pick her up.
- Ranch dressing works for vegetables. My daughter actually like balsamic vinaigrette and caesar salad dressing also. She gets those when we have salads (hers is a bowl of sliced cucumbers).
- Peanut butter on apple slices. When all else fails at breakfast, my husband can get our daughter to eat apple slices if they have peanut butter on them. I know she’s getting the sugars that are in these sauces and condiments, but she’s also eating the chicken, broccoli, and apples that she “hates” so much.
- Kids are kids and will most likely not just sit down and eat what you want them to eat. I’ve recently learned to start accepting this. I hate getting up from the dinner table while my husband and I are eating to serve my daughters every request. We’re working on manners about interrupting us while we’re talking, trying what’s on your plate, and other things. Dinners are exhausting and not a lot of fun.
- Let the child help make dinner. This was actually my husband’s suggestion, but it seems to be working. There are age appropriate tasks that toddlers can help with such as taking cut broccoli off the cutting board and putting it into the pan or putting the bag of frozen vegetables into the microwave and pushing the correct buttons. This helps her be a part of the family activity of getting dinner ready.
- Age three might not be the age to try to get your child to learn to like baked cod and butternut squash. I want to eat the healthy foods for two reasons: 1)to please my easily bored pallet and 2) to try to lose weight. That being said, I have to accept the fact that my daughter may be willing to try my yucky food, but I’ll probably need to have leftovers from a more successful meal on hand when she decides she hates it.
Even though I secretly dread sitting down to dinner most nights because I know that I am most likely going to hear “I hate this” to something that she was asking for earlier in the day, using these techniques have brought some peace.
Simpler meals where there can be a little bit of fun included (dipping stuff in ketchup, drinking soup out of a bowl, using a toddler knife to cut up her pasta) make meals so much more tolerable. Trying these few things is how I got my picky to eat. At least for now. Who knows what challenges next month will bring.
How do you get your picky child to eat? Please share in the comments!