Picky Eaters: Doing Battle with Dinner (and Breakfast, and Lunch)

Our baby’s first food was sweet potato that he grabbed from my plate at 5 months old. A few months after, he began a wholesome diet of grains, vegetables, and fruits. Once the kiddo was eating solid foods full-time, he loved anything we put in front of him: curries, sandwiches, gourmet pizzas, Mexican food, pâté (okay, not really). But when I heard people talk about how their children were such picky eaters, I laughed that inner, haughty, naïve laugh of a first-time parent and thought, ‘”Psht. These people must not be introducing their children to diverse foods. They must have formula-fed their kids. They must hit the drive-thru too often. They must be pigeon-brained idjeets.” (Okay, not really.) OUR CHILD wasn’t having issues with food. OUR CHILD loved everything. OUR CHILD was given the healthiest, organic, beautiful palette of rainbow-colored foods available on the planet. OUR CHILD was getting the best nutrition.

OUR CHILD TURNED TWO.

HealthfulMama_GetYourKidtoEatVeg

Once we crossed the 2.5 year old threshold onto the slope towards 3, things changed. Fast. Know what my kid had today? Oatmeal with blueberries, 2 bites of an apple, half of a different apple, a couple sips of coconut milk, and…wait for it…boxed macaroni and cheese with hot dogs and broccoli for dinner. The boxed mac and cheese thing doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is the only meal that gets eaten in its entirety. Add it to the ‘”Passable Preschooler Food List” along with wheat products, ketchup, and Annie’s Bunny Gummies.

The novelty of new foods had clearly worn off. Kid knows what he wants and gets downright hostile about anything else. (Seriously, homeboy basically spit a perfectly fine tortilla-with-a-veggie-burger in my face last week.) Oh, I know what you’re thinking. ‘”Just offer him what you have and if he doesn’t want it–tough. He won’t starve.” Yeah, we do that. Sometimes we do that out of necessity: ‘”Sorry, dude, this is what we’ve got. You eat this or nothing.” But when every meal is a fight, the battle strategy changes. I present our tactics to you in hopes that they work for your tiny soldier.


Picky Eater* Battle Strategy


1. Get rid of the junk. When we first started talking about using the potty, we bribed, yes, bribed, the child with gummy candies for going Number Two. Of course, this not only introduced our son to the evils of processed sugars but let him know that we allowed those kinds of things into our house, occasionally. When we got rid of the gummies, and there were no more to be had, he was perfectly fine with getting a dried cranberry as a reward instead. Getting rid of the junk also forces ME to create different food options.

2. Offer choices. For example, ‘”We have rice with avocados on top and an apple, or we have nuts, fruit, and bread.” Kiddo gets to make a choice, but the selection is a healthy one. Sometimes my kiddo will retort, ‘”No. How ’bout avocado, apple, nuts and rice?” Okay, fine. Done. Boom. Win.

3. Provide plates full of a variety of kid-friendly finger foods: cut up veggies, crackers, hummus, and fruit is a favorite here.

4. Stick with super-foods like avocado and quinoa, so that when they *do* get eaten, there is maximum nutrition involved.

5. Follow the formula of veggie+grain+protein= a meal. I’m fine with nuts, raw red peppers, and whole grain crackers being a meal. It’s not perfect, but it’s got all the elements in there. And it’s certainly healthier than that boxed mac ‘n’ cheese.

6. Make smoothies. Make them fun. Make them your “vegetable” part of the meal. We enjoyed eggs, baked oatmeal, and veggie/fruit smoothies for a light and easy breakfast-for-dinner one night. Some parents like to make veggie/fruit purées and serve them in a squeeze pouch throughout the day. It’s also a whole lot easier with a high-powered blender (we have this affordable version from Oster).

7. When all else fails, offer a ‘”chocolate drink.”

This is my secret weapon:

Chocolate Greens Drink from Amazing Grass, or their Amazing Meal drink, mixed with non-dairy milk. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s SOMETHING and it’s a more nutritious something than another handful of animal crackers. Hint: mix the greens powder with a little water first to get a smooth consistency, then whisk in the milk.

8. KEEP TRYING. Kiddo might not be hungry or be in the mood for what you’re serving. Offer again later. The same goes for food that he says he doesn’t like. Try again in a few weeks or months. We found out tonight that our kid really likes tacos with refried bean filling and avocado. A few weeks ago, this was not the case.

NEVER BACK DOWN, MY COMPATRIOTS! TALLY-HO! And best of luck. This parenting shizz is a mind freak.

Do you have any tips that work for your picky eater? Please add them in the comments!

*For the purposes of this post, a “picky eater” simply means a child whose particular developmental stage is prohibiting him or her from following normal eating habits (i.e. a finicky toddler). Food aversions, however, can sometimes signal allergies, oncoming sickness, or simply a genetic disposition to disliking the food. Never force-feed your child.

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6 Responses to Picky Eaters: Doing Battle with Dinner (and Breakfast, and Lunch)

  1. Brittany January 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Sometimes I have to sneak a bite in when my soon to be 3 year old flat out refuses to eat foods that I KNOW he likes. There is lots of whining, crying, and head-turning to avoid food, but if I can just get a tiny bite in, he may get mad and spit it out, but then he realizes it’s yummy, picks up his fork, and starts eating. I try not to force anything, but I just want him to get a taste. Mealtimes can be so frustrating when he just asks for peanut butter all day every day!

    Another thing that works for my son is just mixing everything together. He’ll eat all sorts of veggies if they’re chopped up and mixed in with his chicken and rice. Sometimes I’ll add a sauce to blend it all a little better, but he doesn’t always need that. I shred carrots and zucchini into tomato sauce, I put chopped spinach, tomatoes, ham, and cheese into his scrambled eggs, and do as much incorporating as I can. If I separate his food he usually won’t touch the veggie portion of the plate.

    • HealthfulMama January 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      Ooh–the mixing everything together is a GREAT suggestion!

  2. Husna January 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Two things:
    One is making green smoothies. That makes me sure they’re getting dark leafy greens, and they honestly do taste good.
    Another is to put a tiny bit of each food onto a spoonful. Tell the kiddo to eat all of them at once and report which one wins the race down his throat first. I am “SO SURPRISED EVERY TIME” and he thinks that is hilarious so he keeps eating. It is a lot of work, but it gets the kid to eat, so I do it.

    • HealthfulMama January 25, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

      Husna, first, the food race is hilarious and I am totally trying that one. We got our little dude to eat dinner last night by simply “waiting it out” until he got over his little bout of emotions. Then he was all, “MMMMM! Yummy!” I remember my parents telling my youngest brother, “I want you to eat 50 more bites,” and he would reply, “No! Just five more bites!” and they would agree, “Okay, five more bites.” It somehow worked every.time.

      I linked my post about green smoothies in the text above, but here’s the link if you’re interested: http://healthfulmama.com/2013/01/get-your-kids-to-eat-their-vegetables-its-simple/

  3. Becca February 13, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    My almost 3 year old will not touch veggies – if its green, he gives it back. Except if its frozen. No joke, you cook the frozen veggies, he doesn’t eat them. Give them to him in a bowl frozen, greatest appetizer ever invented. Reverse psychology usually gets food in the mouth (swallowing it is another story, but hey, at least he tasted the broccoli) and its actually pretty hilarious: “Don’t eat the broccoli.” “Look, I’m gonna eat it” “Don’t do it!” “Nooooo!” and lots of laughing

    • HealthfulMama February 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      Strange creatures, those three-year-olds… ;)

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