It often seems that picky eaters are almost as much a part of parenting as giving birth. Rarely in a family with more than one child is there not at least one picky eater. You know the one, the child that eats peanut butter and jelly for every meal every day for 2 solid years or the one that shudders and cannot eat one bite if food on the plate touches other food items on the plate. What’s a parent or caregiver to do with such a being as a picky eater?
While we all have our worries about a picky eater’s nutrition and health, but when it comes down to it, battles over food are not productive for anyone. So how to get the picky eater to try new foods without resorting to battles, to those forced ‘you sit there until you eat those peas’ nights at the supper table?
First and foremost,cease making food a battleground. If your picky eater is partial to certain foods, then by all means feed them those foods. This does not mean never offer new foods, just go ahead and indulge something the picky eater WILL eat, especially if their favorites are relatively healthy foods. A peanut butter and jelly diet never hurt a kid for a few months. The key is to stop the battles and approach your picky eater with a different tactic or two. In our family, we never made our kids eat something they didn’t want to. They could always have cheerios or a peanut butter sandwich instead. By being laid back about this, as our picky eater got older, he was more willing to try new foods knowing that nobody was going to make him eat it. This worked for our family. Some other ideas in dealing with picky eaters follow in this article.
One popular picky eater tactic is to hide foods inside other foods, such as blending vegetables into pasta sauce when serving spaghetti and meatballs. Or baking sweet, appealing muffins that contain a variety of ingredients that would not be eaten by the picky eater any other way. These tactics might work to ‘get the food into’ the picky eater, but they really serve no purpose in encouraging a picky eater to try new foods and maybe eventually broaden horizons.
To subtly encourage a picky eater to try new foods, briefly comment on the nutritional value of foods now and again as you cook them. NOT forcing the picky eater to try said foods, just commenting along the way. ‘Dad loves carrots and they’re so good for night vision.’ ‘I love to cover my broccoli with cheese sauce’. Kids are listening even when you do not think they are- and picky eaters are no exception. Keep those comments brief and move on, not dwelling or cajoling your picky eater. Give it time.
Some families have a ‘one bite’ rule that often pays off in the long run, sometimes even preventing picky eater syndrome from occurring if the rule is started young enough. This picky eater rule, the ‘one bite rule’ is essentially insisting that each person in the family must take one bite of every dish offered at mealtimes. One premise behind this rule is getting the food in the picky eaters mouth so they at least taste it. Another reason for this ‘one bite rule’ is that taste buds change over time and something that wasn’t good tasting to you at one point, may taste better and even good next time. Especially as picky eaters change and grow.
Another option in coercing picky eaters is bribery. A fine parenting tool widely used everywhere, bribery works with older children who are reluctant to try something new, especially when the ‘one bite’ rule is not something your family has used in the past. I once offered my daughter $10 to try broccoli with cheese sauce because I was convinced she’d like it once she tasted it. In this picky eater case, I was right! $10 one time is a small price to pay for a child deciding to like broccoli!
In summary, picky eaters as children that are forced to eat foods they do not like,often grow up into picky eaters as adults. Whereas picky eaters as children who are given room to make those choices when comfortable, who are offered many choices but not forced, will eventually try new things and therefore broaden their culinary horizons. I know this because I was and still am a picky eater-having been one of those forced to ‘sit there until the peas are gone’. As I mentioned earlier in this article, we as parents chose to allow our picky eaters some freedom and eventually horizons were broadened. It’s a long term investment, like all things in parenting.