Let me start this post with a short snippet about my husband, who is a “picky eater.” He is getting better, but when we first met, I NEVER saw him eat vegetables… except potatoes. He once told me that he blames his parents because they “never” made him eat anything he “didn’t like” or “didn’t want to eat.” Now… I wasn’t there and I’m not sure how accurate that is. I do know that I have had other parents come in and tell me about how they will make their child a preferred food if they don’t like what the rest of the family is having for dinner. I have seen family members give in and, when the rest of the family is having baked chicken, make a “picky eater” PIZZA ROLLS.
Before we get going into how to handle “picky eaters,” let me say that if your kiddo just doesn’t like a handful of foods, then you don’t *need* to do anything about it. Not very many people like all foods. If your child eats well and likes most foods, but doesn’t like meatloaf or corn, then there’s no need to force them to eat meatloaf or corn. This post pertains to the children who will only eat a handful of foods (likely foods like chicken nuggets, french fries, mac ‘n cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). If this is your child, read on!
How NOT to handle a “picky eater” is to just make them chicken nuggets (or pizza rolls…) every time they throw a fit. First off, your child may not even actually be a picky eater; they just might have figured out that they can get something “yummier” if they throw a fit. I can understand why it might happen… mom and dad have been at work all day, are already exhausted, and still have a list of 50 things to get done before bed. The last thing they want is a meltdown at the dinner table and a fight trying to get their kiddo to eat meatloaf (or whatever it is they don’t want to eat). It’s easier to just make them something else. I get it; I really do. But guess what happens? You get a child who learns that mom and dad aren’t going to follow through and that if they throw a big enough fit, mom and dad will make them something else. Unless you break the cycle, they aren’t likely to “grow out of” this.
So what do you do with your “picky eater?” You have to start getting them to eat non-preferred foods. You can try a “cold turkey” method and just stop making them anything extra… but you could make it a bit easier on yourself and your kiddo if you ease into it. So for this example, we’re going to pretend that I’m a mom to “Johnny” who loathes every single meat option BUT chicken nuggets. If I have already been making Johnny chicken nuggets for every meal, I’m not going to just stop, but I am going to slowly make him take bites of the other meat I serve.
So the first week I will explain to Johnny that he needs to take JUST ONE bite of meatloaf, then he can have chicken nuggets. Will he fight it? Probably. But one bite with the reward of chicken nuggets will be much more appealing than telling him to just “suck it up” and eat the meatloaf. Stick with it and make sure he takes that one bite before letting him have the chicken nuggets. And when he takes the bite? PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE!! Does it seem ridiculous to praise him for taking one bite? Absolutely!! But do it anyways because it makes it more likely that Johnny will take his bite the next night.
From there, keep increasing the amount of non-preferred food that Johnny must eat before he can have his beloved chicken nuggets. If Johnny goes 3-4 days in a row without making a fuss about the one bite, increase it to 2-3 bites, then keep increasing from there. Know that every time you increase it, Johnny might put up a fight again. The most important thing to do is follow through – do not back down. It may take a while, but it will be worth it. Instead of fighting your “picky eater” for the next 10-15 years, you’ll put in a lot of work for a few months in exchange for a child who will eat more than just fries and chicken nuggets. 🙂
Also, remember that your child watches what you do! It’s not fair to expect your children to eat their vegetables if you (or your partner) refuse to do so. You must be a good role-model, even when eating.