When it comes to getting kids to eat……well I’m still not sure I have that 100% figured out. By the time I do think I might have it figured out I realize their tastes have changed. One week they love something and the next they hate it! What gives? “Mommy made you a nice dinner now eat the dang dinner” am I right? I have dealt with my fair share of picky eaters. Before I had kids of my own i worked for ten years with kids with disabilities teaching them life skills and in the schools. I thought I had seen it all….Until I had my son. I love him to death and it’s a good thing I do because I believe that’s what keeps me going day in and day out but when it comes to the dinner fight, I am do soo over it! It has been a non stop fight for four years now (he just turned four). Here is a little background story before I share with you what I have found to work and not to work.
I believe my son came out of my body a picky eater! Although by looking at my little chunky Gerber baby you would have thought he loved to eat. Sooo not the case. He was breastfed from birth and he took to that like icing on a cake, both my kids did actually. However his picky eating started shortly afterwards. He refused the bottle! I mean refused! No one could feed him but mom and the boob. I breastfed him for eighteen months which is really good for him while it is exhausting for mom. Both my kids ate like new borns for months (that may explain something to do with why they were either off the growth chart or in the 98%). It wasn’t all good though. After so long a baby needs more than what a mom can supply as far as nutrients and their development goes. At ten months he was diagnosed as anemic and wasn’t developing how he should have been. He wasn’t even attempting to crawl at this point and didn’t babble at all. He was a very good baby just not where the doctors wanted him to be. I was told that because of his anemia he wasn’t hitting his developmental milestones. Given my past work history I knew that from that point on I was going to do everything it took to aide in his development and be my baby’s advocate in anyway need be.
They told me to up his iron intake and to supplement what he wasn’t getting from me and the food I was given iron drops to give him 3 times a day. If you have never taken, seen or smelled iron drops let me just share with you. They smell disgusting! Like an iron pipe or a bunch of pennies or something it’s hard for me to explain but anyways. My son already had an extreme aversion to anything in his mouth. Like I said he refused the bottle, he also refused the binki, and wouldn’t let you stick anything in his mouth. I tried giving him the drops. That didn’t go over so well. When I told the doctor that he spit it out and it was a fight of us holding him still to try and give him these drops I was told that that was what I needed to do. I asked if I could take them or iron pills (since I was still breastfeeding him I hoped they would get to him that way) and I was told no it wouldn’t work. They only option she gave was to get him to eat a lot more iron rich foods. So that was my mission!
I bought every iron rich food and gave it to him. Most of it ended up back on me or the floor (my dog had very good iron levels at this time) but he liked peanut butter and beans so we went with it. A lot of it. But it worked! I then got him enrolled in the Infant and Toddler program through our state it was free until he was 3. We worked closely with an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and a speech therapist. To say the least he graduated the program before he turned three and is exactly where he needs to be now. It was hard and it still is a struggle to get him to eat and eat a balance but what this experience has taught me is that food is more than just food. It is our fuel, our life line,our development and our medicine. Here is how I have gotten him to eat more of a variety to this day.
Step 1 Start with the basics
Keep a food and drink log. What did you serve? What did they eat? The time they ate. How much they are drinking throughout the day. The problem may be as simple as the time they last ate or they are filling up on fluids all day. Do this for about a week or two to get a good balanced idea of their schedule. I would also recommend to keep notes of their behavior or your schedule that day.
When trying to figure out why your child isn’t eating in the first place you will want to start with the basics. The basics here are things like textures and colors. Give them a variety of the same texture things such as mashed sweet potatoes, mashed cauliflower, mashed potatoes. If it’s not a texture thing is it colors? Offer them all the same color. Such as green grapes, peas, broccoli, green beans or carrots, cooked carrots, sweet potatoes. You can see where I am going with this right? Keep track of it in the food journal.
I wish I could tell you that there was a simple solution that you could snap your figures and it be done but like I said I still haven’t found one.
Step 2 Evaluation
After a week or so go back over your food log and think about the experience. By now you should start to see what’s going on at least a little bit. What did you discover? Are they filling up on drinks so they aren’t hungry when it’s time to eat? Are they snacking to much in between meals. If they are snacking on healthy things than I wouldn’t be to concerned about their eating. Is it a color or texture thing? If this is the case you can then work with your child’s pediatrician to see what they suggest you do. If it’s not either of these then we move on to step three.
Step 3 Try everything
I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear. I get it we want a quick fix but with kids this just doesn’t seem to be the case. Each parenting style is different and what’s more important is that each kid is different. What works for one kid is not always going to work for the next.
Methods that I tried and that failed.
The cube tray method.
Have you heard of the ice cube tray method? It’s when you offer your little one many choices in an ice cube tray and basically let them pick and choose what they like and what they don’t like.
While this works in step 1 it’s not a solve all for getting your kids to eat their dinner or even a well balanced diet.
Eat it for every meal method.
This method is when you offer your little one the same thing for every meal until they eat it. I know it sounds harsh and it may not be for everyone but like I said I have been battling my son for four years to eat and I have tried just about everything! Even this one.
They will eat when they are hungry method.
When my son was refusing the bottle everyone told me, including his pediatrician, “he will eat when he is hungry and just keep offering the bottle”. This one is kind of like the way it for every meal method in this case. His pediatrician assured me it was ok and that he wasn’t starving. Well I have it a try. My son is stubborn to say the least. After 12 hours I have in. Needless to say he never took the bottle.
Methods that I have tried that worked
Eat your dinner you get dessert
I read in some psychology blog under getting kids to eat that you aren’t supposed to offer kids another food to get them to eat what you want. It stated that it degrades the thing you want them to eat and makes the other thing seem more appealing but let’s be honest here. Cookies do taste better than the broccoli or salad. Who wouldn’t rather eat a donut or cake or basically anything smothered in chocolate and laced with sugar. We all love those things but we choose to eat the healthy things because we know they are better for us. And everything that we do in this life is done for a reward of some sort. We work to make money. We make money to pay the bills and buy the things that we want. So I choose to look at it in this aspect. Yes, I offer my kids a dessert, only after dinner, but I do. I may be doing things wrong but it works.
Have standard rules for everyone
I am not the type of parent that caters to my kids wants all of the time. I by no means make separate dinners for the kids and one for my husband and I. This is a hard fast rule in our house. I make one meal. That’s it. Every one is offered the same meal and if they eat it, they get dessert, if the choose not to, they dont. It’s as simple as that. This includes they have to eat everything. Not just what they like and leave the vegetables. An easy judgement as to how much to serve your kids plate is one teaspoon per year per age of the child. Start there. They can always have more of they like to.
Cooking to their likes
As I said before I make one meal but occasionally I will make some tweaks to it. For instance if I cook fajitas I have found that my kids will eat it without a fight if I prepare their plate in a kid friendly way. So my kids like quesadillas. So I will add some cheese and make it a quesadilla. I don’t want to sound as though I am contradicting what I said in the last paragraph because I am not making an entirely separate meal. For some reason that I can’t explain my kids are more likely to eat it without a fight if it’s not rolled up. Maybe it’s easier to hold?
Another thing I do to cook to their likes is make more kid friendly meals. I don’t mean macaroni and cheese with hot dogs every night but rather more casseroles. This is another thing that I have discovered about my kids that I can not explain. They will eat pretty much any casserole without a fight, no matter what is in it. If we have a casserole with broccoli in it, the kids eat it, all of it and they don’t wine and complain. If I serve a dish with the broccoli on the side, it’s a fight. I don’t understand it but I have found it works so I don’t care haha.
Set a time limit
You want to give them time to eat, remember kids tend to eat slower than adults, but you don’t want to still be sitting there at ten o’clock trying to get your kids to eat their dinner. Set a reasonable time limit, this is where it is important to have schedules. After dinner we have bath time at our house so I can tell my son he needs to eat because we have to go take a bath. It is also just as important to follow through on what you say. Set a timer and give them a count down starting at ten minutes, then five, and after five minutes give them each minute warning. I simply tell him “you have two minutes left to eat and then we will go get ready for bath time”. Consistency and follow through are key here. When I first started this he did throw a fit and tell me that he was still eating but use your best judgement. You can tell when your kid isn’t really eating and is just making up excuses. He gets upset because he doesn’t get dessert but I explain to him that we have so long to eat and that includes dessert, now it’s bath time and we move on. I also assure him that we will try again tomorrow. And we move on.
Include them in the cooking process
Kids seem to be more excited to eat when it is something they helped make. If you are making g something all on the stove and you don’t want them near the burners, have them help with the prep. They are not only learning an appreciation for food cooking together is a binding experience as well. They feel important and included and you might be amazed at how much they can actually do.
The best thing that you can do is to be consistent and keep trying. I know that right now it might feel like you have no more to give or you feel like you are loosing the battle but believe me it will get easier. Remember the three steps, Start with the basics, Evaluation, and Try everything. They maybe strong willed but you are stronger!
Best of luck with getting your picky eater to eat!
Until Next Time,