We absolutely, unequivocally, positively REFUSE to have picky kids. This isn’t just some character trait that we want them to shed, we believe it truly is the difference between life and death. What kid wouldn’t want McDonalds chicken nuggets, fries, and ice cream for every meal? Kids are KIDS, and kids don’t know anything about making choices that might seem more unpleasant in the short-term (broccoli versus ho-hos) to reap benefits in the long-term (healthy body versus cancer, heart-disease, diabetes, you name it). That is why such a crucial component of every parent’s job is to tell their kids, especially smaller kids, what to eat. Not ‘guide’, not ‘coax’, not ‘beg’, but TELL. We are the parents, they are the children. We teach them to make proper choices when they are older by making those choices for them when they are small. In obesity wracked America, many parents are clearly failing at this job. We refuse to fail. There is simply too much at stake.
A critical component of eliminating pickiness is expanding a child’s palate over time. It can take up to 30 tries of a particular food before a child comes to like that food (usually less). Think about it – what adult likes black coffee, unsweet tea, olives, raw oysters, or even anchovies (ok maybe that’s a stretch… who likes anchovies??) the first time? It’s called ‘acquired’ taste for a reason. Sure, it might be unpleasant at first, but getting your child to eat and like a variety of foods while they are small will reap huge rewards when they are older and especially when they are grown and making those choices for themselves (and know what’s at stake!).
When our babies first started eating baby food we introduced everything (green beans, carrots, squash, peas, etc.) at least once. If they spit it out we would put it up, go to something they liked for that meal (usually squash – for some reason they all loved squash) , then re-introduce the food they didn’t like the very next meal. Rinse and repeat, sometimes several times, but eventually every single one of our children came to eat and even like (or at least tolerate – even I didn’t have the heart to feed them the baby canned green beans more than a time or two – ugh!) every single type of baby food we fed them. Why? Because they acquired a taste for it! They expanded their palate.
Fast forward to toddler stage and beyond – if you have done your job right at the baby stage it’s normally much easier when they are toddlers, but kids still won’t naturally like every food. There are several things you can do at this stage. For presentation purposes let’s assume the offending food is broccoli.
1.) Cut the broccoli into smaller pieces and mix it on the spoon with other foods they like.
2.) Make a game of it – pretend they are ‘trees’. (For asparagus, we always like to pretend they are eating ‘Junior’ from VeggieTales. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t quite go over so well.)
3.) Offer a reward for a clean plate or for eating their broccoli – a small healthy ‘dessert’, yogurt, fruit they like, etc.
4.) Lastly, if all else fails, use the punishment of your choice (within reason of course – hanging them by their toenails probably isn’t the best option).
Some other tips:
1.) NEVER, I repeat NEVER make a separate meal or food item for one child. Once you start rolling down that hill you will find it very difficult to stop. They eat what the family eats, period.
2.) Even if you choose to not make them ‘clean’ their plate, always make them eat a reasonable amount of each item, especially their vegetables! In our family everyone is expected to eat all of their vegetables and most of everything else, but if on occasion they don’t feel like eating the rest of their bread, or some other non-veggie side item, they can stop as long as they have tried several bites.
3.) Use seconds as a reward. There is usually something a child likes best and they will often eat that first and want seconds. If they do, make them clean their plate first. You will be amazed at how well this works. (thanks to ‘becomingcliche’ for this!)
4.) Encourage a spirit of THANKFULNESS, from thanking God by blessing the food to thanking whoever made the meal (including the server if eating out). We do not permit our children to turn up their noses at something, make rude comments, or otherwise display an unthankful spirit.
5.) Educate them! Teach them that by making good food choices we are literally helping them to feel good now and for the rest of their lives. Our bodies use the nutrients found in good nutritious food to fix things that are wrong before the doctors have to. God designed it that way! Eating right is the very best thing we can do to ensure longevity and a healthy life.
We as parents have a tremendous responsibility. The patterns we instill in our children will be with them for a lifetime. Picky kids will be picky adults, except that you won’t be able to make your adult children eat healthy. Go to war with picky – the spoils will be well worth it!
“It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.” – Proverbs 25:27
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6