Picky Eater Pick-Me-Ups

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I used to think I was an excellent parent because my kids would eat turnips.  Then they stopped eating turnips and a whole bunch of other vegetables, and I had to wipe that smug expression off my face.  I guess it wasn’t so much that they had liked the turnips as they hadn’t formed an opinion about them, yet.  And when they finally did, forget it.  Many years and many vegetables later, it’s been like a never-ending game of Sorry.  We take 7 steps forward, 4 steps back, and just when you think you’re in the safety zone, you get bumped back to Start.  

So much of early motherhood is about feeding your child that it’s hard not to take it personally when your kid goes on strike.  As a mother, I need to feel like I’ve done my best to get good food into my kids.  At the same time, I understand that they need to feel like they have some element of control over their own bodies.  It’s a hard balance to strike.  Gradually, I’ve learned that I can’t control what they like, but I can control the options.

My compromise has been this: I always have one or two things on the plate that I know they’ll eat.  There’s fruit at every meal and they like most fruit, so that’s easy.  They like most carbs: rice, pasta, potatoes, bread.  Since they get the same meal we adults eat, the meat and vegetables may not necessarily be their most favorite things.  But the rule in our house is that everyone has to eat one bite of everything, and then they can be excused, no questions asked.  This way, they usually eat at least 50% of their meal, but they’ve also had some small introduction to the flavors they will continue to see in the future.  No alternative meals are provided.  The idea is that the roster of foods that they like will eventually grow.

The nutritionists say it can take up to 20 exposures to a new food before a child will accept it, and this has proven true in my experience.  My kids didn’t even consider soup to be food for two whole years.  But 20 spoonfuls of soup over those years translated into my oldest loving soup and my youngest now eating his required spoonful with only half-hearted argument these days.  That’s progress!

My approach won’t work for every kid, and it certainly won’t work for every parent, but there’s a mealtime tactic for every parenting style, I’m sure of it.  Here are some other ideas floating around the Internet worth trying if your child is hesitant to embrace new tastes.  A few strategies short of gavage.

April over at Boston Mamas noticed her daughter’s fascination with her passport and the process of getting it stamped.  So, she decided to create a Food Explorer Passport to encourage her daughter to try new foods:

“On our latest trip to southern Spain, she willingly scarfed down unfamiliar Spanish foods and helped me put the stickers in her "passport" to prove it. Next to the stickers, I wrote out what foods she tried. She was beaming with pride and very willing to give things a go, although not everything. Some dishes weren't worth a sticker, she decided, and that's OK.”

Now, I kind of want one of those for myself.

Colleen at Foodie Tots likes the idea of serving tapas to picky toddlers:

“When you think about it, tapas (“little plates”) are really the ideal toddler-friendly meal, with small portions, varied colors and textures that catch their eye without being intimidating.”

The recipes themselves need not be Spanish in origin, though she notes that slices of mild chorizo or other sausages are a good finger food option, along with diced fruit and sliced vegetables.  Eating with toothpicks has a certain cache with the preschool set, too.  

Even something as simple as giving an unpopular food an exciting new name can sometimes turn the tide.  The food marketers on television do it all the time.  Joan at Eat Local Food explains:

“In a new study, 186 four-year-olds were given regular carrots and, on other lunch days, they were given the same vegetables renamed X-ray Vision Carrots. On the days they were served X-ray Vision Carrots, the kids ate nearly twice as many carrots, and perhaps more importantly, the higher rate of carrot consumption continued even after they were no longer labeled with a creative name.”

My husband got our kids to eat broccoli by telling them to pretend they were giant dinosaurs eating trees.  That’ll never work, I thought.  I was 100% wrong.

Any of you veteran parents out there have some wisdom to share?  


Tammy Donroe can also be found documenting the messy collision between food and life on her blog, Food on the Food.


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