It is hard enough to menu plan for your family with family members who will eat just about anything, but try to plan a menu around a picky eater. Trust me, it isn't fun! Not only am I blessed with a son who is extremely picky about his food, but I was doubly blessed because I am the proud wife of a picky eater. With two picky eaters in the same house, with different likes and dislikes, there are days where I want to throw in the towel and let my family eat Pop Tarts, chicken nuggets, and macaroni for the rest of their days. The problem is that I know that this isn't the nutritious route for them and I enjoy eating a variety of foods in my own diet, despite their pickiness. So what is a mother to do with a picky eater? What are some guidelines to follow to get them to eat? And where in the world can a mom find a menu that fits her child's likes and dislikes? Here are a few ideas for the mommies of picky eaters everywhere.
My Own Picky Eater
I have always had a concern about my son's diet ever since he started solid foods. At the age of four to ten months my child would eat anything that I fed to him. I made my own baby food for him and provided him with every fruit and vegetable under the son.
Once my son began to feed himself, however, food as he knew it began to change. He realized that he had a choice as to whether or not he wanted to eat the food and, for the most part, he chose not to eat anything that was given to him. Consistency, texture, if the food stuck to his hand, the color of the food, if the food was a meat, and if the food was a vegetable all became variables in whether or not he would be eating that particular dish. The worst part about all of this was preparing food for him only to discover that this was not listed on my son's weekly top three list of favorites- chicken nuggets, macaroni, or bagels.
As a mother, and someone who studied nutrition, I wanted a variety of healthy foods for my child and refused to give in to the monotony of this menu. I started reading & researching on the topic and discovered that I was definitely not alone and that this was all normal and part of most children's development. These are a few of the tips that I have gathered through researching for my own family.
Picky Eater Basics
- Despite the guilty feelings you may have about what your child isn't eating, realize that this is part of a child's normal development. If your child is growing and is active, then there is probably very little to worry about. Even if your child does not eat particularly well on one day, keep in account all of the days during the rest of the week that he/she ate well. If you are still concerned, daily vitamins can provide some peace of mind for parent's of picky eaters although they are usually unnecessary.
- It is normal for children to go on eating binges on one particular item of food. My own personal opinion is to go on the binge if it is healthy food and if it is adding value to their diet, but be more conservative with it if it is not part of a well-rounded meal.
We have had our own experience with "binging" many times in our household. The first time, my son went through a stage where he loved peanut butter and jelly and that was the only food he would eat. Thinking I was saving money and pleased that he was actually eating for a change, I ran over to Sam's Club and bought the biggest container of peanut butter that they sold. One week later, my son hated peanut butter & jelly and only wanted grilled cheese. I learned a very valuable lesson that week- don't buy in bulk for a toddler no matter how crazy you think they are over a particular food. They change their mind very easily and their loyalty to foods changes all of the time.
- Keep snacking to a minimum so that when the dinner hour rolls around, your child will be hungry and more willing to eat new foods. Don't forget that snacking can also include all of the milk & juice that your child consumes. These beverages can pack in a lot of calories and give your child the feeling of fullness.
- Even if you think your child does not like a particular food, try reintroducing it to him again and again. Surprisingly, research shows that children need to be exposed to a new food usually between ten and fifteen times before they will accept it. If your child doesn't like green beans one night, give it a week and then reintroduce the vegetable.
- Don't offer your child too many new foods at one time or they may get overwhelmed and uninterested in the entire meal. Limit your exposure to one or two new foods each week and keep the portion size minimal (one tablespoon should suffice) giving you're child a taste of the food and not wasting food unnecessarily.
- Do not equate food with behavior because it can lead to many problems down the road for your child. You never want your child to think that eating is a symbol of esteem or love. Likewise, you do not want your child to associate eating with negative feelings and punishment. It is great to comment on how much your child enjoyed a particular dish, but stay away from praising your child for eating everything on their plate. In a similar manner, also try to refrain from the you-will-sit-here-until-you-clean-your-plate mentality or punishing your child for not eating all of their food. We want our children to have a healthy relationship with food and to learn to exercise their own self-control towards their diet.
- Allowing your children to help you in the kitchen may be a great way to get them to add new foods to their diet. There are so many benefits in having your children aid you with the meal preparation- math skills, understanding science, and important bonding time with you as the parent. Having them help you will give them a sense of pride and ownership in the food that they have created. This ownership will hopefully get them interested in the new food and maybe even an amazing career path.
- Leave it to Family Fun Magazine to help you in menu planning around a picky eater. Family Fun offers a "Picky Eater Problem Solver"where you can exclude ingredients that your child doesn't like and they also help you come up with recipes using meals or ingredients that your child will eat.
I hope that some of these tips that are offered here help you with your picky eater. The important thing to remember is to relax and not make yourself (and your child) crazy about what they are and are not eating.
Please be sure to visit our Picky Eater Dinner Ideas for some great recipes for dinners that you can prepare for your own picky eater.