EWWWW. Yucky. No thanks. I’m not eating that. Is there anything else?
These are sayings I hear routinely repeated during meal times by my ultra picky five-year-old.
I dearly love this little person, but her eating has become so narrow-minded and irritating for anyone on meal prep. I found myself growing extremely frustrated during mealtimes, as I knew she would question the very existence of the food staring at her on the plate. This has been an ongoing issue ever since she was a baby first learning to eat.
Knowing that her body needs proper nutrition for healthy development, I found myself at a loss of how to convince this child that food is fuel. So what’s a frustrated parent to do?
My plan was to never force her to eat. As a baby, I thought she would try anything placed on her tray. By far, this was not the case with this child.
Eyeballing those strange morsels that were supposed to fill her tummy, she graciously rejected them to the floor. The sneaky spoon attempt was unsuccessful as well in between bites of Cheerios. I felt exhausted and desperate for failing with every approach I made.
I resorted to an “I give up” mentality, thinking her palette would expand as she grew older, and became one of those parents who limits their child’s diet to a restaurant-friendly menu.
Fast forward from baby to a now five-year-old and this little person still holds true to her picky eating ways.
Being somewhat of a foodie, I consider cooking to be an art form and enjoy exposing my family to a culturally diverse menu. In order to help my little one embrace how our family consumes meals, I started with an occupational food therapist to rule out any sensitivities, disorders, or other unknown issues.
At our first and only appointment with this food therapist, she ruled out any major physiological disorders, sensitivities, or structural problems. What surprised me was the diagnosis of anxiety, willful-thinking, and stubbornness.
With a little further exploration, it was apparent I was having my girl mostly try new foods at dinnertime with all family members present. So all eyes were watching and her siblings were being more problematic than helpful.
It was also clearly noticed that when dinner is prepped, my girl always wandered in to see what was being prepared. Whether or not she helped with meal prep, there never was a guarantee that she would ingest it. However, she was beginning to have anxiety about trying this new meal before ever sitting down to the table.
Sometimes it takes someone on the outside to fix a “broken how” in a family dynamic, as in our case, I needed an outsider to give a fresh new look to mealtime.
The one bite rule: Asking her to take a bite of the unappealing food before other food was given didn’t work.
Giving an option of eating or not eating: Every time her stubborn willfulness would consume her and she would always choose to not eat.
Siblings being present: Having the whole family present at mealtime added to her anxiety.
Atmosphere of positive encouragement: This meant finding creative meals that involved diverse eating without anxiety. (i.e. lasagna, meatballs, soup)
Keeping a chart: Each new food that was tasted was written on a chart, kept visible for everyone to observe.
Rewards: After 10 new foods were tasted, a favorite food reward was given—chocolate.
Siblings were quiet: They were told to focus only on themselves instead of what was or was not being eaten. This made for less anxiety and more tasted foods.
I was determined to help my little girl learn that trying new foods was never meant to lead to anxious moments. I cleared my pantry and fridge of unwanted added sugar or high sodium foods, as well as anything that would inhibit her from trying our savory meals. Without having these restaurant-friendly foods in the house it was not even an option to ask for them after a meal.
So The Journey Began
AT first, she rejected the one bite placed on her plate, but by decreasing the sugar and sodium from her diet, there was an increase in tasting real foods. The apprehension soon became “I will taste one bite, with bread only!” Within a few weeks, if the presentation was appealing, she would at least taste the food—and sometimes ask for an actual portion.
Our greatest accomplishment was with lasagna, she reluctantly tasted it and asked for an actual portion, as well as a second portion—woohoo! This milestone has led to much more success.
We still have days where she rejects every morsel of anything scrumptious, but eating scrambled eggs without ketchup was a hurdle to be celebrated.
The journey of having more successes than failed attempts is a work in progress, yet I feel she is well on her way to a healthier eating mentality.
Tips For Picky Eater Success
- Incorporate little people with the meal prep.
- Leave the restaurant-friendly foods at the restaurant.
- Choose to buy only whole food options with lots of fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Keep snacks to once a day and opt for proteins as the main snack.
- Reduce sugar, sodium, preservatives, dyes, artificial ingredients, and GMO’s from the pantry.
- Practice moderation with treats.
- Use plates with several sections to offer a place for each variation of protein, carbs, veggies, and fruits.
- Be the influencer of change and model great eating habits.
Little people are complicated at best. They are formulating their own opinions of likes, dislikes, and habits together with their emotions added in. There are no shortcuts with parenting, yet we are hard on ourselves for habits unintentionally formed.
Although it is our responsibility to guide our little ones to a healthy successful lifestyle, we must first model the behavior we wish to see displayed within them. This is never easy, but possible!
Incorporating ways to expand your palette with diverse cooking may not be your forte, yet I would encourage you to evaluate your own eating habits and see if there is some much-needed change. Remember food is fuel!