Today I’m answering a question Becca asked about feeding a picky 4 year.
So you talk about your very picky husband and occasionally picky son. I will say that my husband is actually a very adventurous eater (as I have brought him to that point :). The issue is I have a VERY VERY VERY picky almost 4 year old. He is getting steadily worse as he gets older. He was great at 1 and its all goes downhill. He used to at least eat pork and chicken but now those are even off limits. He now eats only chicken nuggets and peanut butter on crackers. I am so ashamed. Anyway, do you have any pointers on feeding a picky kid. If not, could you at least share how you handle meals with picky eaters at the table. Do you make separate meals or offer alternatives?
Your question could NOT have come at a better time. I swear my 5 year old is getting worse too! It doesn’t help that he’s influenced by his picky dad, friends, food offered at school, and to some extent, me. There are times I’d rather take the lazy way out and succumb to the husbands request to go out, especially being pregnant right now.
All that being said I still fight the fight. The first thing I do is set ground rules. There is nothing off limits (I think that can backfire on you) but there are things you must eat if you want “snacks.” “Snacks” seems to be the word The Little Guy uses to mean anything not good for him, which bugs that CRAP out of me.
We (or I should say, I) also have a rule that there must be a fruit or vegetable (preferably both) with every meal. That means at breakfast we put blueberries, bananas, or anything else we have, in our cereal. When he doesn’t want to, I tell him he has to have fruit on the side. Sometimes he argues and sometimes he wants every fruit in the house. Kids are FICKLE! But I stick to my rule. Even if we split a banana or make a smoothie the little bit he takes in is good and reinforces that I will not negotiate the rule. From what I’ve observed, it ebbs and flows. There are times it’s easy and he just naturally gravitates towards the heathy options. Other times he wants nothing to do with good food and I want to pull my hair out. It’s maddening!
Lunch has been getting harder since school started. I pack his lunch at least 3-4 days a week but he’s been begging me to buy lunch at school. It drives me crazy! I still follow my school lunch rules (click here to read my approach) but more and more the vegetables come back, he doesn’t finish his fruit and sometimes he barely eats anything at all! Again.. DRIVES ME NUTS!
But I continue to follow the rules and sometimes he surprises me and comes home with a completely clean lunch box (although I wonder if he’s smart enough to just dump it at this point. lol) The days that he buys lunch we talk about his choices and he always proud that he picked the fruit or veggie and calls it his “one healthy thing” so I know he’s absorbing what I’m teaching but his “one healthy thing” is not enough in my opinion (normally pineapple chunks paired with chicken nuggets and an ice cream bar)
Part of me would LOVE to control everything that goes in his mouth but as he gets older he’s going to have to make his own choices. My goal at home is to surround him with the good options so he learns what a good choice is. Although Dad’s chocolate cupcakes normally beat out the bananas, I won’t let him dive into the pantry until I know he’s had a few healthy “snacks” first.
Dinner is getting harder and harder as well. As you may have even noticed around here on GreenLiteBite my dinner posts are getting far and few between because I find myself not being able to get as adventurous. It’s hard with a 5 year old AND a picky husband. I feel like I’m fighting a constant battle. As for making separate meals, I am NOT a big fan. There are only a few things I do make substitutes for and most of them are for the husband not the kid. There is only one thing I make special for the 5 year old and it’s fish sticks when we are eating fish. He has never liked the texture of fish, even when he was little. So I cave and buy him traditional fish sticks when the husband and I have salmon or tilapia. Even though he has the fish sticks, I still have him take at least 1 bite of my fillet. One day I know he’ll change his mind, I just know it! :)
Other then that I do NOT make any alternate meals. I think you have to find what works for your family with out guilt! I really try to balance what I know they will eat with what I know is healthiest for us. ‘What I know they’ll eat’ is also made the healthiest possible way. For example, I know they will eat fried rice, so I make it with brown rice and load it up with veggies, like Kale.
As for handling meals at the table with picky eaters I have one rule… YOU MUST TRY EVERYTHING! I don’t care what it is. When trying something new on the family I will serve it with two other things I know they do like so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. This rule has worked many many times.
Both husband and child were totally freaked out by my roasted Brussels sprouts now they love them. Both put up so many complaints about the beets that I wanted to smack them (seriously, click here to see my husbands face). They aren’t their favorite but when I serve them, they eat them. I think teaching kids that they don’t have to absolutely LOVE everything they eat is a good thing. That sometimes you eat out of respect for the person who made you the meal. Sometimes you eat because you know it’s good for you. And sometimes you eat because it tastes good and you want it. These three things are all very important but I find too many kids are just given a free pass on the first two.
What do we do at the dinner table when he refuses to try that “one thing”? He sits there until he does. I don’t feel guilty or bad about this. I’m not forcing him to eat an entire plate worths, it’s just one bite. He must take the bite if he wants to leave the table. Have there been screams and crying and headaches and frustration… OH.MY.GOD.YES! But I stuck to my guns between the ages of 2-4 and now he just knows. He takes the bite, makes a face, says he doesn’t like it and we move on. Sometimes he surprises himself and likes it. Sometimes he really doesn’t. BUT HE TRIES IT! I really think that is key. The more tastes, texture, and foods you can get your kids to try the more they will like. There are times he hates something he liked last time and there are times he LOVES something he swore to me he would never eat. That’s why it is SO important to get them to try and to not give up.
I do have to add, I take opportunities as they come. For example and this may be TMI for some of you. There were a few times, especially when we are on vacation where Little Man got, umm how should I say it, blocked up. Oh, I’ll just say it… constipated. Honestly, it rarely happens because he takes in a LOT of fiber but when it does I tell him straight out, this is what can happen when you don’t eat a balanced diet. We then talk about why fruits and vegetables are so important. I really think education is key. Even if it may be over their heads they are taking in more than we realize.
I also tell him mommy didn’t like certain things when I was a kids either but I do now. We talk about how tastes change and why eating certain things are good for you. He already understands the importance of nutrition without being overly fanatical about it.
Can you tell this is a big topic for me. I have a lot of opinions and theories but there is one thing I really want to stress. Don’t be “ashamed”! You are doing the best you can and there are a LOT of forces working against you. Stand your ground and know at this point your child will NOT starve himself. Remember that it’s ok to make rules and it’s ok to say “NO”. They may cry and scream but they won’t die. If all else fails, compromise. A 4 year old totally understand the concept of “you can’t have that until you eat this.” Besides educating, bargaining is my next line offense. Life is full of compromise, they might a well learn that now.
I hope that helps Becca. Keep fighting the good fight!