If there is one theme that I hear over again from parents, it’s the struggle of dealing with picky kids. I’ve been there. My oldest has gone through every frustrating phase in his 5 years, including, but not limited too:
The surviving-on-3-bananas-a-day diet
The green anything = poison phase (even a sliver of basil on pizza)
The sugar-is-my-favorite-food-group realization
And most recently, the “Can I have cereal for every meal?” begging and pleading.
For all of these phases and the many others not mentioned, I’ve picked up a few tricks that help flip off the picky switch—for now. Use these strategies to steer your selective eater back on track.
Stop caring. If there is one true but humbling lesson I’ve learned, it’s this: The more you push, the more your child will dig in his heels. Pressuring or negotiating with a two year old (or insert your stubborn child’s age), is always a losing battle. Instead, keep offering healthy foods without freaking out about whether or not he eats it, and remember that your consistency over time will eventually pay off—even if not today.
Swap in small subs. Here’s a trick for kids who are stuck in a pattern eating the same few things: Make one or two small changes to get them used to the idea that a food doesn’t always has to look or taste a certain way. So if your child only eats PB&J for lunch, swap out the type of jelly one day, then change the type of bread the next. Heck, even cut their sandwich into triangles instead of rectangles. Pickiness persists when kids think that a food always has to look and taste exactly the same, so making small and subtle changes helps to break that mentality in a less threatening way than a complete meal overhaul.
Cook together. Starting in September, we’re adding Mommy and Me cooking classes to our lineup for one reason: We know that the more kids are involved with meal preparation, the more likely they are to try what you make. Cooking has the added bonuses of familiarizing kids with ingredients, building pride in their work, and engaging their natural curiosity to learn and explore. Kids as young as 18 months can pat veggies dry with paper towels and press buttons on a blender or food processor, and older kids can wash, mix, measure, or even pick out recipes from a cookbook for you to prepare together.
Make a game out of it. Just like every baby in the world opens up for the choo choo train of food, toddlers and big kids are all about having fun—and this applies to eating, too. Food games bring mealtime down to their playful level and for picky eaters, make food fun again. Create a meal that’s all about their favorite color or character, relocate to a silly place to eat (under the kitchen table, anyone?), or create your own game. The other night, I stuck a triangle sticker to one arm of a fidget spinner and put it in the middle of my son’s plate. After each spin, the triangle pointed to the food he had to eat. There was a lot of “Aw man, I have to eat cauliflower—yuck!” but yet the game dictated that he needed to do it, and he obliged without my asking. I’m keeping that game in my back pocket for brussels sprout season!
Nicole Jurick is a mom of three and owner of the cooking school Peasful Kitchen. Nicole shares healthy recipes, mealtime inspiration, and sane strategies for feeding picky eaters.