Practical Ways to Overcome Mealtime Struggles
Before I had children, I thought that my kids would eat anything I fed them. Vegetables, fruit and meat wouldn’t be an issue because their little baby palates wouldn’t know the taste of sugar or processed foods. Well, into this world came a high-needs baby who was picky from the time food was introduced. Around a year old he would eat some of the things I made for dinner, but as he neared two years old, the variety in foods he would try was narrowed down to only a handful of things.
As a parent, I desperately wanted him to be healthy and knew refusing whole food groups wasn’t leading anywhere good. Now a lot of toddlers become picky eaters for a time, but in most cases this is short-lived. His refusal of all vegetables, fruit, meat and cheese went on for a couple of years. I tried everything! Mixing vegetables in with fruit puree, healthy muffins with spinach snuck into them…the list goes on. At times, he would refuse breakfast, lunch and dinner and then fill up whenever we had a meal that he approved of. It was scary to think that he may not be getting the nutrients he needed to develop normally.
If you are struggling with a picky eater, there is hope! Our story has a happy ending.
After implementing the strategies listed at the end of this article, I can joyfully say that he no longer struggles at meal time! Right after my son’s 5th birthday, we decided to try juicing for everyone in our family. You can read more about juicing here. My husband and I had some health concerns that needed addressed and we felt that juicing was a great answer to some of these problems.
At first, my son refused to even try the juice we made. I offered it every single day to him. After about a week, we got him to taste it. As the days went by, he drank more and more, trying every kind we put in front of him. Green juices, full of vitamins and nutrients, didn’t bother him at all! It was only a few weeks after we started juicing that we noticed he was willing to try new foods at dinner also! My husband and I were so relieved to see him try fruits, vegetables, beans and meats. It was amazing to watch his transformation and to see him actually enjoying the foods he tried. I can honestly say now that all of the years of hard work have paid off.
I put together a list of strategies below that worked well for us. These may not work for every child, but I would encourage you to implement these if you are struggling with a picky eater.
- Consistency is key! Have meal times the same time every day, as much as possible.
- If your child refuses to eat, do not let them snack in-between meals. This will further reinforce that they do not need to eat what is put in front of them. Too much grazing throughout the day will decrease their appetite at meal times.
- When you offer new foods, require that they only taste it. This really helped my son not feel overwhelmed with having to eat everything on his plate.
- Help feed them when trying a new food. I know, I know, our kids need to feed themselves, but I felt like this took away some of the stress and actually encouraged him to eat more. Now, I don’t sit at the table and feed him his dinner every night. New foods can be intimidating to some children so offering to help eases some of that burden for them.
- Do not punish them for refusing to eat. Over time, the natural consequence of not eating dinner, which is that they will be very hungry for breakfast, is enough to reinforce the need to eat at meal times. Shaming them will not encourage better eating behavior, actually just the opposite.
- Talk with your children about WHY we need to try different foods and eat enough. I regularly talk with my children about how food nourishes our bodies so we can grow, have energy, and feel strong. This has helped them to put two and two together that when they refuse a meal, they will feel weak, tired and have no energy. Little Critter: Good for Me and You is a great way to introduce the concept of healthy eating to children
- Cook your meals at home and let the kids join in! This can help your child understand how food is made. Getting them interested in the process will encourage them to want to try the food they have prepared. Realistically, not all families are home for every meal of the day, but set a goal that works for your family. How many days a week can you make a meal together? Even if you can only cook dinner at home, this will be enough to make your children feel included. Weelicious Lunches is a cookbook that will give you hundreds of easy and healthy lunch ideas.
- Limit processed foods, eating out and sugary treats. 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous: The Easy and Delicious Way to Cut Out Processed Food is an awesome book that teaches you how to incorporate real food into your diet and challenges you to eliminate processed food.
- Try Juicing! I wrote an article about the benefits of juicing. This made a huge difference in my child’s eating habits.
- Start a vegetable garden. It is a great teaching tool to show your children where their food comes from. You can read more about gardening here.
What is your experience with picky eaters? Have you found anything that helped expand their willingness to try new foods?
Comment below, I would love to hear from you!
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. The information contained here is simply my personal experience and what I have found to work for me and my family.