One of the biggest struggles that I often hear mothers talk about is how challenging it can be trying to feed picky eaters. It can feel like such a daunting task, one that I think so many of us can relate to. And it’s easy to see why. Cooking healthy and nutritious meals for our families takes time, effort, money, and a whole lot of patience. It’s no wonder we feel frustrated after putting in so much effort cooking a meal, only to be rewarded with our picky eaters moving food around their plate. It can be enough to make us want to give up.
While I may not be an expert on child nutrition or even cooking with your kids, I have had the experience of cooking for my own four children for the past nine years, and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. I’m hoping that some of what I’ve learned from feeding my own picky eaters may help you feed yours.
Dinner time is NOT the time to go into battle.
He/she is most likely tired and hungry after a long day (and most likely so are YOU). This means we’re also most likely not the best version of ourselves. Patience is usually short, and tempers are heightened. So, go into mealtime experiences with realistic expectations, and remember that we are all just doing the best we can, even your little one.
Introduce new foods with the “tried and true.”
Even though it may seem simple and easy to us, introducing new food to children can set their minds into overdrive. It can be all-consuming for them. For many children, it can even be stressful. The unknowns of how something will taste, or feel, can be very unsettling. To help calm their anxious minds, it’s helpful to add some of their favorite comfort foods to the plate when incorporating a “new” food item.
One thing at a time.
This is another way to help calm your child’s anxious mind when it comes to food. It’s so easy for our little ones to get overwhelmed. By limiting the amount of “new” food items they try in one sitting, we’re limiting the amount of stimulus they receive, and therefore the amount of overdrive their minds may go into. I try to keep in mind that my children have many years to try all the different food varieties out there. It doesn’t all have to be on the plate tonight—one thing at a time.
Repeat, repeat, and then again repeat.
It can take anywhere from 10-15 exposures of a new food for a child’s taste buds to adjust. So, don’t give up. They may not love something the first 14 times, but maybe they will on try 15. So, keep going. Remember, we are creating life lessons here, not something won over night. Repetition is key.
Let them have a voice.
So often, young children don’t have much say in their day. As parents, we’re usually the cruise directors of their lives, telling them where to go, when to be somewhere, and even what to wear. Our children usually don’t have much voice or independence over their days. The kitchen is a great place to change that. As much as you can, let them be involved in picking out new foods to try. Let them shop with you, see the wide array of colors and shapes, and pick something new. Let them get involved washing fruits and vegetables and even helping to prepare them.
Teach them how to listen to their body.
This has been one of the hardest ones for me to learn, but I think one of the most important. Our kids know their own bodies, most of the time, better than we do. If your child tells you they’re full or they’re not hungry, try and listen to them. For so long, I tried forcing my kids to “finish their plate,” and it got me nowhere. In fact, all it did was teach my kids to look to me to tell them when they’re full instead of trusting their own instincts. For our children to have a healthy relationship with food, it starts with them being able to listen to what their bodies are telling them, and that starts with us listening too. Forcing food on kids will never win any battle. Trust me. I’ve tried.
Be the example.
Remember that just because your child isn’t “trying” a new food doesn’t mean they still can’t learn healthy eating habits at mealtime. YOU are an incredible teacher and role model. Your relationship with food has such an impact on how your children view food. Try and remember that even though your child may not be trying those green beans at dinner, it does make a difference that they see YOU trying them. We are our children’s best teachers. It starts with us.
Let food be love.
At the end of the day, food is simply love. That’s it. It’s us showing our love to our families. Let meal times reflect that. The last thing we want to do is create an environment or experience where our children dread or feel stress around mealtime. In our house, I try to make mealtimes something my kids look forward to. Even if they don’t love everything on their plate (which they often don’t), I want them to still love the experience of mealtime. Make it more than just about the food.
After all of this, though, probably the biggest thing that I’ve come to realize over the years is that they’re all going to be ok, regardless of what I do. With my firstborn son, I only let him eat organic food made in my kitchen and was made completely from scratch. I took no shortcuts and was religious about his meal prep. Fast forward to child number four, and it’s almost the opposite end of the spectrum. I never made any of his baby food from scratch. It turns out he’s my best eater.
As different as I was with how and what I cooked for them, all four of my kids are all healthy and growing. They all have a strong understanding of nutrition and, for the most part, have healthy eating habits. But most importantly, they have a healthy relationship with food and see it as something that’s used to nourish their bodies. For a mom who struggled with picky eaters for many years, nothing could make me happier.
Do you have picky eaters? How do you handle it?
Katy is the mother of four and the founder of Grace in the Crumbs, a space dedicated to finding beauty in the everyday, ordinary, and often messy moments of our lives. Katy and her family are originally from Chicago but moved to Fairfield almost two years ago. When not in the kitchen, you can usually find Katy either on her yoga mat, relaxing at the beach, or cuddling on the couch with her kids…her favorite place to be. To learn more about Katy, visit her website, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram!