If you’ve dealt with a picky eater, you know how stressful they can make mealtimes. My son, John, has always been a picky eater. We fought over food on a daily basis, and I came to loathe meals. For months, I gave in, opting to serve his favorites before preparing another meal for my husband and myself. It was time-consuming, endlessly frustrating, and embarrassing when we needed to dine in public. I knew the bad habits needed to stop.
It’s not just about the inconvenience. Recent statistics suggest that one out of every three children is considered overweight or obese and children considered obese are four times more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than children of “normal weight.” More often than not, picky eaters pick carbs and starchy foods. A diet heavy in carbs is a recipe for childhood weight problems, so having a picky eater can weigh heavily on a mom’s heart. If you’re struggling with how to fix a picky eater, or you’re just interested in introducing a few new foods into your child’s diet, here are three practices that really helped.
1. Food Chaining
Have you heard of a method called food-chaining? It’s a multi-step process for introducing new foods by associating them with old favorites. For example, one of my son’s favorite foods is tortellini Alfredo. Our end goal was a sausage pasta dish in tomato sauce with broccoli. We began by introducing broccoli smothered in Alfredo sauce. After some time, I substituted the tortellini for whole-wheat penne pasta. A week later, we switched the Alfredo sauce out for tomato. Each leap was manageable, and by making one change at a time, we were able to introduce all sorts of new veggies and meats.
2. Mom Chooses What and Kid Choose How Much
We operate according to this rule: Mom chooses what you eat and you choose how much. We never make our son clear his plate and we never force him to eat more than he wants. But, if he wants dessert, he knows he needs to eat one bite of everything. One bite is certainly manageable, especially if a few M&Ms or a snack-size KitKat follows. I always make sure John’s plate contains a favorite in addition to the less-preferred food so he never leaves the table hungry.
3. Courses are Key
We serve meals in courses. Try this if you want to feel fancy! Most days, I serve a meat, veggie, and carb as course one, followed by fruit, and ending with a piece or two of candy for dessert. If he doesn’t eat a bite of everything, he doesn’t move on to the next course. Nine times out of 10, my son wants the fruit and dessert enough to eat the main course. Unlike for many families, dessert is a regular part of our meals. Small chocolates are not considered a reward for good eating but are simply the final course. John knows that if he wants his dessert, he just needs to sample all of the courses that precede it.
What tricks do you have for how to fix a picky eater?