Updated for 2016 — So, you’ve got a picky eater! How do you handle it when your child refuses to eat anything at a meal? Do you cater to their every wish and whim or insist they eat the dinner you make for your family? The first thing you need to ask yourself — is there something up with your child? Is it a one time thing or a phase they’re going through? Are they feeling well? Or is there something else up (like maybe Sensory Issues?).
I’ve been dealing with my oldest son’s picky eating habits since he was around 18 months old (he just turned
6 10 1/2). Our definition of picky is that I know what I can serve my son so he’ll eat. Breakfast and lunch aren’t the problem (but since I don’t make more than a waffle or pour some cereal in the morning – both of which he’ll eat and lunch is usually a sandwich), but dinner is.
1. Plan Menus and cook with your picky eater. Sounds silly, but I discuss options BEFORE I actually cook anything. I offer two choices, one tried and true favorite that I know my child will eat and what I plan to make for my husband and I. Example, “Would you like mac and cheese or steak and potatoes.” Or if I am making pasta with a sauce, I offer plain pasta with butter and cheese. Do I wish my son would just eat what I serve? Of course, but I think my way is better than fighting with him. Sometimes I have to fight to even get him to eat that mac and cheese or plain pasta! Since he’s older now, I also have him help me cook. Even little kids can stir ingredients or do something.
2. Serve veggies first. My picky eater gives me a problem with veggies too. So I try to serve veggies first. I always try to give a choice of two and let him pick one. He HAS to pick one and eat some. Yellow and Green Squash and creamed spinach are acceptable to him, but I’ll also offer thin baby carrots (he hates the thick stubby ones), cucumbers, jicama, bell peppers (but now he claims he doesn’t like them)..
3. Figure out the portion amount that your picky eater HAS to eat. The whole plate? 1/2 or 1/3 of the plate? The portion amount matters. My picky eater won’t always eat the portion amount I give him. Sassy makes BPA free divided plates which are great for dividing up the portions to “What you have to eat” and “What I’d like you to eat but you don’t have to”. I don’t make this up.. I have to do this sometimes.
4. Bribery IS an option. My husband and I offer a miniscule amount of ice cream or a small dessert treat if my son finishes his dinner. While the portion is really tiny, I always make a big deal about it, like my son is getting away with something. “Oh wow, I’m giving you so much ice cream” — when it’s really 2 or 3 teaspoons full. I try to make sure that the ice cream is a better kind (without high fructose corn syrup) — Edy’s makes a natural chocolate ice cream without HFCS). Some parents may not to reward with food and may prefer to make a sticker chart, give little non-food items. Whatever works, right?
4. When all else fails, keep protein drinks/shakes/nutritional bars on hand. Some days nothing will work in my house and all my preparation goes out the window. Some days he’ll eat two bites of the dinner he’s agreed to eat and refuses to eat the rest. No amount of cajoling, bribing or convincing works. My husband and I used to get very upset (since Ben is underweight), but now we’ve realized that something is better than nothing and giving him a protein shake is the only way we can be sure he’ll get something in his system.
5. It will get better. My son just turned 6 and things are a whole lot better than when he was 2, 3, 4 and even 5. He seems to add a new food every 6 months to a year and is getting better about eating more and more. But he still has a long way to go and like it or not, I’ve got to make sure his journey is a healthy one.