My Top Tips for Helping Your Picky Eater

I want to touch upon a subject I know a lot of people struggle with...a picky eater in their family.  Everything I talk about in this post is geared towards kids, but is really true for anyone, adult or child. I'm not a child psychologist, but I'm a mom of 3 young boys who has struggled in the past and has successfully come out on the other side. I'm sure not all of these tips are new to you, but I want to share what's worked for me and my family and hopefully can help you as well. 

Here are my top strategies for helping your picky eater:

1.  You are not a short order cook. I repeat, you are NOT a short order cook. You don't work behind the counter at an all night diner taking orders. You make ONE meal and the whole family eats it, or they don't eat. I know this sounds harsh but if you make a meal that you KNOW your kids like, but they refuse to eat it and ask you for something else, then they are either not that hungry, or just know that they can have whatever they want at meal time no matter what you put in front of them. I recommend starting off making meals that you know your kids like (whatever it is). Get them used to the idea that this is the meal you have prepared and if they don't like it (which you know they do) then they don't eat and there's nothing else on offer.  It may take some  time to get everyone on board but they will get on board.  You can decide which meal you want to start enforcing this at, but I would recommend dinner rather than breakfast. Breakfast can be so rushed and it's pretty tough to send your child off to school with nothing in their tummy.

2.  Eat as a family.  I'll admit, this is a tough one for our family during the week. My husband doesn't get home until 8pm. I can't even wait that long to eat with him. But, I do sit down and eat with my kids at 5/5:30. We do make a point to have at least one family meal during the weekend where we all sit down together.  Leave your devices on the counter and just focus on enjoying the meal. 

3.  Get your kids involved in the cooking process. I know it's frustrating when you're trying to cook and your well intentioned kids want to help and 2 minutes later an entire bowl of food is on the floor. Depending on their age just give them age appropriate jobs like using the pepper mill to add in some spice or chopping or stirring things on the stove if they are old enough for that. When kids help prepare the meal, they are more likely to eat it!

4.  Eat Your Rainbow. This is a great reminder for everyone to eat a variety of fruits and veggies by thinking about eating foods in the color of the rainbow. Marshmallows from Lucky Charms cereal DO NOT count. If you say to your kids, "Let's make sure to eat our rainbow today", it may get them excited to choose red peppers and blueberries and cucumbers to start getting those colors on their plate. Not only is it good for you it looks beautiful too!

5.  Give them options. One of my favorite simple dinners to do is taco night. I cook up ground beef with homemade taco seasoning. (I love this recipe) You can change it up with turkey or make it vegetarian with beans as well. I then set out different bowls with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheddar, and guacamole. The topping ideas are endless, it's whatever you like! And then the kids get to put their own toppings on, in the order they want, and in the amount they want.  When they feel like they are more in control of their meal and creating it, I think they are more likely to eat it.

6.  Slowly introduce new foods. As you lay the ground work for ending your career as a short order cook and everyone gets used to the idea of eating the one meal that you make, this is a great time to start adding in a new food each week or every few days. Trying new vegetables for example. Just put it on their plate and make a "one bite rule". I know it's tempting, but try not to bribe them with TV or special treats. It may work in the short term but will backfire eventually. If they are really resistant to your one bite rule, just continue to put the food on their plate and they will eventually try it. No need to scold them for not trying and when they finally do try it (because they will!) no need to overly praise either. You want them to know that you expect them to eat the food on their plate. I usually like to say something like, " It looks like you're really enjoying your food" or "I'm glad you're enjoying your food".

7.  Be an example for your kids. If you're trying new foods and cooking more, you're going to be setting a great example for your kids and they will follow in your footsteps. You'll not only see the short term benefits like your kids starting to eat a wider variety of foods and helping you in the kitchen, but also the long term benefits like knowing how to cook for themselves, eating well and self-confidence.

8.  Stock your fridge & pantry with healthy options.  An important part of this is what's available to your kids in your pantry and fridge. If they always have the option to eat cookies, chips, crackers and candy that's generally what they are going to go for.  What if you went to the grocery store and they were "out of stock" on cookies this time... but INSTEAD they had apples and natural peanut butter which can make an easy & healthy after school snack! You just have to keep putting things in front of them to try and slowly crowding out all the other less healthy food that they might be eating. 

9.  Cut back on pre-dinner snacking. This is a tough one... Everyone comes home from school and after school activities starving. If you have young kids like me, dinner is often at 5/5:30 so that everyone can get bathed and start getting ready for bed around 7/7:30. Making sure your kids come to the dinner table hungry, and not still full from whatever snacks they ate, is also key to successful eating at dinner time.  You need to decide what's best for you, but you may want to eat a little later if they've had a late snack. Just try to avoid continuous snacking throughout the afternoon.

10. No More "Kid Food" vs. "Adult Food".  This goes back to the idea of cooking one meal that everyone eats and stocking the fridge and pantry with healthy options that everyone eats. In my house there isn't anything other than the alcohol (ha!) that is just for grown-ups vs. kids and vice versa. 

This is definitely a process and won't happen over night. Just take small steps and you will get there! I hope some of these tips were helpful. Let me know if there any others you've tried that work for you!