You all know I want my kids to eventually have some degree of sophistication when it comes to eating, and nothing shouts bad manners louder than someone who turns his or her nose up at something served for dinner (Tripe and sweet breads, of course, being the obvious exceptions to this. I believe those and other similar cuisine entitles the one served to get up and run as far away from the dinner table as possible).
My daughter is about as picky as they come. She won’t eat pasta. Ever. This includes noodles of all kinds and in all cuisines.
So here is a list of techniques, suggestions, philosophies, etc. that I try to use. I’m not uber consistent, so maybe by writing it down, I’ll start to be better about the whole thing, and one day my three little lovelies will be as unpicky as I am.
1. Be as consistent as you can. This is sometimes very hard, as life is insane for everyone. But if at all possible, try to serve meals at the same time every day. My grandmother used to actually serve the same meals every week: spaghetti on Wednesday, franks and beans on Saturday (unless it was summer, then she served crab), some sort of roast on Sunday, etc.
2. Don’t force anything on them. I think this may actually be the reason my 6-year-old still won’t eat pasta. I may or may not have possibly made her eat some once. Maybe. Either way, I learned it isn’t such a good idea. The best thing to do is just put out the meal and say, “This is what I have made. You may choose to eat it, or you may choose not to eat it, but I am not making anything else. Out next meal will be tomorrow morning at 7:00.”
3. Parents decide when and what to serve, children decide if and how much they will eat. That line, or something close to it, came from a book I read in college with a title like How to Keep Your Kid from Getting Fat (I tried finding it on amazon, and couldn’t, but it was something like that). If you consistently follow this rule, the power struggle should eventually go away.
4. If you can’t say anything nice about the food, then go to bed. Just kidding, though I’m sure that is how many a night has played out at our house. Just keep the rule that no food will ever be discussed at the table unless it is to say thank you or pay a compliment. If a child does not like something, they are not to talk about it, nor are they allowed to push the plate away (unless they want to sit on their beds until next Thursday). To remedy the issue of a child in too close a proximity to the gag inducing food, see suggestion #5.
5. Serve things family style. Family style is simply putting the food out in serving dishes in the middle of the table and allowing the children to pick what they want on their plates. This is also good for teaching them to say, “Please pass the _______.”
6. Don’t make dessert a reward for clearing their plates. Most people who write this suggestion say it’s because you don’t want to send the message that the ice cream is better than the broccoli and beans . But we all know that ice cream is, in fact, much better than broccoli and beans. Kids aren’t stupid. They’ll figure that out without our help (or the help of the new diatetically correct Cookie Monster).
I don’t like to make them eat all their food to earn the dessert for a few reasons. Here are a couple of them: for one, they come to expect a dessert, and when there isn’t one, you’ve suddenly lost your bargaining chip. For another, when we make them eat a whole plate of food, chances are they won’t have much room for dessert. But they will eat it anyway. This only makes them ignore their bodies’ natural signal to stop eating when they are no longer hungry, and conditions them to overeat when simple sugars and fat are close at hand.
My solution is to serve dessert once a week, or maybe twice. And I simply serve it as the last course. Everyone gets some, regardless of who ate the first or second courses (Don’t worry. I don’t believe I have ever served a 3 course meal). Since it only gets served every once in awhile, instead of every night, the kids learn they have to eat the healthy food if they don’t plan on starving.
7. Serve food in an appealing way. And I’m not talking about serving pear halves with almonds and carrots stuck in them to make them look like rabbits. I’m talking about serving food on nice plates, in an appetizing manner, as if you were serving dinner guests. Unless you’re too tired. For goodness sakes, don’t kill yourself over it, but if you were to have the time to consider serving canned fruit fashioned into small woodland creatures, then think gourmet instead. (Bunnies and smiley face pancakes are great for lunch and breakfast, though, when things are a little more relaxed around the house, and it’s just you and the 3-year-old).
8. Have the children help with the cooking. If they know what’s going into the food, and they feel they are a part of the process, chances are, they’ll be more willing to try things. At least, that’s what everyone says. Still hasn’t worked for my 6-year-old.
9. If you know will be serving something your kids absolutely hate, be sure to set out something you know they will like. For example, if I’m serving lasagna, I know my daughter would just be staring at her plate feeling left out and frustrated that there is nothing for her. So, I’ll usually set out some crusty bread and butter or a salad (or crappy bread and carrot sticks—whatever I have on hand). This way, she at least will feel part of the meal and eat something.
10. Make conversation and togetherness the emphasis at mealtimes, not what is being eaten. My mom always says that when you have a picky eater, don’t talk about the food much. Just put it in front of the child and talk about something else. If you can encourage them to take a bite or try something they are apprehensive about, great. But the second it starts turning into a fight, drop it. Sometimes the food simply becomes a way for the child to exert their independence rather than something to enjoy. If they won’t taste it, change the subject to something safer, like religion or politics.
Look at that, I made it a nice even ten! What things work well for you? And what do you think is the weirdest thing your kids are picky about?