Give Up The Food Fight!
Getting your picky eater to eat nutritious food doesn’t have to be frustrating. The more at peace you are when feeding your child, the more likely they are to begin enjoying dinner time.
If you asked me to describe feeding my child when she was 2 years old, I would have used the words frustrated, annoyed, and hopeless.
The more I desperately pushed her to eat something beyond a pouch of fruity puree, the more she resisted my attempts.
In the 2.5 years since we have transformed a child that couldn’t bear to even touch food into a girl that will happily eat salmon, seaweed, and brussel sprouts.
It was a lot of work to get to this point.
The three most important things that changed my daughter’s relationship with food all revolved around my attitude and how I interacted with her.
#1 Set Realistic Expectations
Setting realistic expectations was a major change for us. Let’s face it, a typical 4-year-old probably isn’t going to eat a bowl of garlicky collard greens the first time you serve them. Instead of getting frustrated by this, we thought about our daughter’s taste & texture preferences, then considered what would be realistic to expect from her.
Then we talked about those expectations with her before she even saw a new food.
Many people start with the expectation that their child must try one bite of a new food, but that wasn’t always realistic for our little one. Instead, we would compromise and agree that the food will stay on the plate, but it doesn’t have to be eaten.
Remember, eating isn’t just about chewing. Sight and smell greatly influence taste. Getting your child used to the sight and smell of a new food is still progress.
I would start this conversation by saying something like this:
“I am introducing you to a new food tonight. Would you like to see what it looks like before I cook it?”
“These are collard greens**. They give our body vitamins and minerals that we need to grow strong AND they make it easier for us to poop. I’m going to put this on everyone’s plate tonight. You can try a bite if you want to but you don’t have to.”
Using simple dialogue allowed our daughter to get used to the idea of a new food without pressure and helped her feel in control of what she was eating.
This step saved us a lot of frustration and helped us make real progress.
**note: collard greens is what we are working on 2.5-years into this process. This would have been mashed potatoes a year ago.
#2 Don’t Force Food
The parenting moments I am least proud of involve me trying to convince my daughter to eat food.
It is so frustrating to prepare a meal and have your child not even try a bite! There were plenty of good reasons for me to be upset: food is expensive, I was usually exhausted but I pushed through to put the time and energy into feeding the family... oh, and of course my ego was a little bruised.
But you know what? Making an ultimatum only adds tension to the situation.
One thing I learned is that fighting our daughter over what she eats only makes eating, and mealtime, something stressful for the whole family. Not only did fighting make her unable to digest the food properly, but it also associated negative emotions with a food that she already wasn’t sure of.
Would you want to eat green beans if you got yelled at every time they were served on your plate? I sure didn’t.
#3 Introduce New Foods Thoughtfully
Once we stopped forcing food on our daughter, we learned to focus on developing her “yes list”
Two great strategies that worked for us were:
- Slowly branch out from foods she already liked
- Serve a new food alongside something she did like
Like many children, my daughter had (and still has) some serious texture aversions which really limit her dinner options.
One of her teachers encouraged me to “branch out.” That meant making a list of things that she did like and then giving her a similar, yet slightly different, option. This may sound simple but it really diversified our food choices!
Even when slowly branching out, it is important that your child still has food to fill up their belly.
Serving a new food alongside something familiar prevents the whole “eat what you’re served or go to bed hungry” thing that so many suggested to us.
Remember, the goal isn’t to convince your child to eat a new food right away. They are making progress even if they are just getting used to the sight, smell, and presence of something new.
Having a picky eater can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be hopeless!
We made nutritious food fun through patience, small steps, and thoughtful planning.
As frustrating as the process may be, your picky preschooler is quickly growing into a big kid, who will soon be a teenager, then on to adulthood! Before you know it, you’ll be missing those stubborn little chubby cheeks.
Try to enjoy them and their food journey while you can.
Can you see yourself trying any of these approaches?