It was quite a shock to discover that our younger son was a picky eater. There were days when I worried that he wasn't getting the nutrition he needed, days I just wanted to throw my hands in the air and give up and days I gave in to his less than nutritious diet.
If your child only eats hot dogs and chicken nuggets and you are feeling discouraged, let me encourage you that there is hope! We are starting to see some small, encouraging changes in our son's eating habits. Here are a few things we have done to encourage our son to eat a better variety of foods:
One Meal. I never prepare a separate meal for our picky eater; instead, I always make sure that each meal includes at least one or two things that he likes to eat. This way, I'm not encouraging him to continue eating only the things he wants by making him a separate meal.
Dinner Buffet. I have always prepared my children's plates for them at dinner, but in his book, Have A New Kid by Friday, Dr. Kevin Leman suggests putting the food out, passing the food and letting children fill their own plates.
Several weeks ago our small group enjoyed a potluck dinner together. Despite Dr. Lehman's advice, I was shocked when my son looked over all the food on the table and we had this conversation:
"Mom, what's that?"
"Oh, I want to try that, Mom."
It was the first time our 4-year old had ever asked to try something! And while I refrained from doing a happy dance right there in the middle of the crowded kitchen, I remembered Dr. Lehman's advice and determined to allow my children to experience more food on their own.
The One Bite Rule. Many times our children have told us they don't like something just because of the way it looks. We have gotten into the habit of asking our children to try at least one bite of any food that they don't think they like. We always reassure them that they don't have to like everything that they try and they don't have to finish eating any food that they don't like.
I realize that this may be a bit controversial. But we have seen some wonderful changes in our picky eater's diet that I directly attribute to this. Our son is no longer afraid to try new things! This child who had a very limited diet, has asked to try black olives, beans and pickles in the last few weeks.
No Whining/Complaining Allowed. Our youngest son complained about his dinner even before we sat down to eat and it would continue to escalate until his older brother was complaining along with him. For a long time I associated his complaining with being a picky eater.
Finally a light bulb went off in my head and I asked myself why I was allowing him--giving him an excuse actually--to complain when it allows him to focus on all the things he doesn't like. Don't allow your picky eater to complain!
Instead point out the foods that he does like. We have also reminded him about the one bite rule and if there is anything he doesn't like he doesn't have to finish it. We are also teaching both of our children that whining and complaining is just plain bad manners. We still get some complaints, but generally mealtime has been much more enjoyable for our whole family.
The Power of Distraction. A note from our older son's teacher said that children should know their 0-10 addition and subtraction facts as they go into 2nd grade. So one night we practiced by quizzing each other during dinner and even our younger son got involved in the fun.
This went on for about 10-15 minutes and when I looked over at our son's dish he had completely eaten his dinner (including the potatoes that he usually won't eat without a healthy dose of ketchup) without one word of complaint! It was definitely an "aha" moment for me. I have also read that reading to children during meal time also works well as a distraction.
What are your tips for parents of picky eaters?
Linked to Domestically Divine Tuesday