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.
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.
*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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