There’s nothing quite as frustrating to me as making food for my kids only to meet whining from the picky eater. You know what I mean because that’s why you are here! Don’t get me wrong, I still go through slumps where I’m lazy and don’t want to deal so I hand them easy food. Some days I’m feeling like a tiger mama watching them down that plate of cucumbers, and other days I’m pulling out my hair because they won’t eat anything I want them to because “they don’t like it”. No matter where you are at, it’s not too late to get the picky eater in your family to eat what you give them! We have had awesome success getting our kids to eat what they are served using these tips, and I hope you will too!
How we deal with the picky eater
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Straight up we are not perfect here! We go through phases where I’m consistent, and then life happens. Someone gets sick, or we are traveling a bunch or just times when I have too many sweets around. Then bam… back to step one. It seems easier in the here and now to give them what they want.
But the next time I want them to eat healthy all of the sudden everyone is frustrated. Doing whats easiest now actually makes it way harder the next time. Why do they get spoiled so fast?! Smart little things they are. So below are suggestions that work for us when I am consistent. Do what you feel comfortable with. It takes us about one week of this and we are back on track. If you slump back, you can always start over.
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What our kids can say if they don’t like something
It’s pretty embarrassing to take the picky eater kid (we’ve all had at least one, yes?) somewhere for dinner and have them blurt out “eww yucky”. I find it so rude, even though they are just being honest. To solve that issue, we have them say something a little different.
I learned it from Peter’s family. Our kids are not allowed to say “I don’t like that”. When they tell me that they have to apologize and I tell them they can say “It’s not my favorite”. This may seem like a small thing but it’s HUGE! When we go places, especially when someone else is cooking it’s so much less embarrassing to hear “this is not my favorite” rather than “eww, I don’t like this”.
We don’t give them options
I don’t ask them what they would like for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner. I tell them what they are having. And if I have two healthy options I’m offering then they can choose, like apple or banana. This became especially clear when I had two vocal little bodies that wanted different things all the time. It saves my sanity. And, I really want them to get used to eating what I give them. And be thankful, haha, is that too much to ask?! 😉
Making two (or three dinners) is exhausting and nuts. And for a little dictator none the less! I never thought I was cooking two dinners. But I realized I was leaving stuff off of both their plates because I thought they probably wouldn’t eat it. Or I didn’t want to deal with the whining so I’d leave off the pesto from the noodles. Things like that! And then I thought…”why am I doing this it’s crazy”. Plus, I wanted to teach them to eat what I gave them.
We make them try a bite
It’s important to me that they are forced to try a bite so that they get used to trying new things, and they are used to the drill now. I make Asian food a lot which has weird flavors that take getting used to. And my kids, like most, would completely avoid ever trying it if they could.
But now they know we expect them to try one slimy mushroom or one sip of funky broth, and one bite is always manageable. If it’s something spicy I’ll have a sip of milk ready which tones down the spice, or I’ll put less of the spicy sauce on the rice.
We cheer for them when they are brave and polite, and now they’ve taken to asking for us to clap for them if they try something new and we forget 🙂 I’ve literally had to coach my two and four-year-old that if they just chew and swallow it faster it will be gone sooner! And many things they used to only do the one bite thing with, they now eat a whole dish because I’ve made it so many times.
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Peter would bring home treats all the time from the hospital, like a sweet muffin or an extra danish or whatever. Of course, the kids loved it! Then one day it hit me the reason they didn’t want fruit was because it wasn’t sweet! (crazy, I know). At least not compared to other things we had around on a regular basis.
Now I’m fine with my kids having some sugar. But I will tell you that when I stopped handing it out multiple times a day they started eating fruit just fine. It took about two to three days for them to stop holding out for treats and instead ask for a banana or apple.
This is one of my top culprits, probably because I like having sweets around. But I also try to eat healthy So that’s why you will find me sneaking a bowl of ice cream during nap time so I don’t have to share 😉 C’mon, please tell me you’ve done that too.
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This is the worst because it’s so easy to do and really backfires. At our house it looks like this: They tried a few required bites and “weren’t hungry”. An hour goes by and they want cereal. I used to be fine just giving them that bowl of cereal because, whatever, it’s easy. And sometimes I still do it when I’m lazy.
But then the next day guess what…they aren’t hungry for what I made again. And they know I’ll give them cereal. So the cycle continues..ahhh! The only way we could break this was to tell them when they “aren’t hungry” (and they have eaten what we asked) that their plate will be waiting for them as their bedtime snack.
I don’t really force them to eat. I’ll tell them three more bites and they can be done (or something similar). But my two and four year old know there is no dessert and their dinner will be the only bed time snack available. The funny thing is with two kids I’ve seen the picky eater of the night quickly finish what was set before them as they watch their sibling get served desert or have a yummy bed time snack.
Letting them go to bed hungry
If you are like me you are thinking, what if they are too stubborn and don’t eat and then get hungry and don’t sleep as well?! I have found they still sleep through the night. We have been woken up around 5 am with a hungry baby, but to be honest a piece of bread and butter or a bottle of milk took care of that and it rarely happened for us. To be honest I’m not even sure they associate it with the fact they didn’t eat enough dinner.
For a sprinkle of honesty though, I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m super tired, like after our third was born this year, I just gave them cereal before bed at night because well #cantdeal and #didntmakedinneragain.
I’ve never seen a starving kid be picky.
But a really effective way to show them they must eat what you make is to let them experience being hungry. There is no faster way to knock out the picky eater than to let them be hungry for an afternoon or an evening. Sigh, bring on the whines. But you must outlast the whining because otherwise your insanely smart toddler/kid knows who rules the roost.
That has worked well for us. Often times what I made looks a lot better with a hungrier belly. I’m always thinking about the kids I lived with in the Dominican Republic who had barely enough to eat. They were never picky. They didn’t complain that they ate the same food every day (rice, beans, chicken, eggs, bananas). I think that with so much food around (and good food) it’s easy to get picky! When there are no other options, and they know it, they’ll learn to eat it.
Curbing the milk
My second child loved milk SO much. We just gave her too much milk and too little food. It was her preference, and giving it to her was our way of not dealing with the picky eater thing. She was always the least compliant when it came to trying new foods, and from a tiny age knew that she could just wait it out and get her milk.
We started offering her water. And dealing with some increased whines. Then we found she started trying foods she never would eat because she was actually reaching the hungry point. If your kids are just surviving on milk and you want to change that, you can!
My two year old and four year old now are allowed milk after meals if they eat enough food. It’s not a snacking beverage like it used to be here. They ask why all the time and I tell them “milk fills you up and you need to be hungry for…(whatever meal is next). It really helps!
No kids opening the fridge
I’m sure this will change as they get older, but for now while they are all under 5 I have had to make the rule that they can’t open the fridge. My 2.5 year old was just opening it all the time grabbing things, which I didn’t like at all. She can ask me for a cheese stick, and go get it out of the fridge if I say yes. But she cannot just go look around for something scrumptious 20 times a day.
Letting them help cook
I don’t always do this but it really helps! They see what all the foods are, they help hand me things, and they later recognize what everything is in their food. I don’t know if it gets them more excited or just prepped about whats coming. Either way, I’ve noticed the more involved they are with helping me get ingredients out, the less weird they think dinner is.
The vegetable solution
Fruits are easier to me because they are sweet. But we always have a vegetable for dinner. I find that steaming veggies so they are soft, and then adding some butter and salt always goes a long way in making them easier to eat (after all that’s how I like them)!
Also seeing it over and over again has really helped. Usually the first few times they just have to try a bite if they don’t like it. My two year old used to make a fuss over green beans and now she loves them. Same with steamed broccoli. We are working on familiarizing steamed carrots at the moment 😉
If it’s any help, this is how I’ve dealt with celery. My four year old will eat it with peanut butter fine. My two year old just licks off the peanut butter. I got her to eat the celery by only putting a little on hers (knowing she would lick it off and want more). Then I told her to get more peanut butter she had to first eat the celery piece too. I don’t think she believed me because she didn’t do it. And didn’t get any more peanut butter. But the next day same routine happened and she ate them together.
By the way, we have tried this kind of natural creamy peanut butter and it’s amazing. Not to mention 100% peanuts, with a salted option too.
We have also had great success getting them to eat vegetables while watching shows. I really don’t like them mindlessly eating while they watch a show…unless it’s a vegetable or fruit haha. That’s how I got them to eat a whole cucumber the other day. Score in my book.
How we do snacks
I’ve found that they would love to snack ALL day, especially on crackers or bread! When I allow it they don’t want the lunch I make or dinner because they are full. The solution to this for us has been simple. When we are at home (which is most the time) I’ll offer them a fruit or a vegetable. Other times I’ll make a smoothie.
At first, be prepared they won’t want it. The picky eater in them says no way. I tell them, “this is what you can have when you are ready” Be prepared to figure out how you will deal with fussing, a bad attitude, or pouting.
Now my kids are used to the drill. They ask and they ask but what they get is what I offer. I don’t know why it shocks me when they ask me for something healthy now like an apple or celery and peanut butter. I think it’s because they know I’ll say yes and it doesn’t taste so bad when the alternative is nothing.
You can do it!
Remember that every kid is different and you can do it! I have seen three very different eaters in our family. They don’t all comply as easily or want to try new things as readily. Just remember no hungry kid will refuse good food, and that you are a great mother if you are even reading this post. It means you care and want the best for your kid. You got this! Leave me a comment about something that either really frustrates you or that is working really well. I’d love it!