I have three kids and they have a tendency to be super picky eaters. My husband and I have struggled with this for years going back and forth between being sticklers for the kids eating what we make and just caving in just to make sure they eat something! I have found a new method that seems to be working (knock on wood) and is getting so many more foods into my kids. Here are a few of the things we have tried and some of the thoughts I have on each.
This was the very first thing we ever did to try and combat meal time fighting. It worked fantastically for years and the only reason we ever strayed from it was because we were trying to incorporate a wider variety of foods into our sons diet. We waited until he was able to reason and communicate very effectively before we moved on to a new strategy. I fully recommend this as a way of starting out on a path to less fighting and happier meal times.
For this method we sat down with our son who at that time was 3 and had him tell us EVERYTHING he liked. Of course we started off with the obligatory chicken nuggets and mac & cheese, but we were able to expand from there and get a good variety of fruits and veggies and a fairly well rounded balance of foods. I then organized the list into categories (fruits, veggies, meats, dairy & meals) and we posted that on the fridge. Every night before we sat down for dinner he and I checked to make sure that everything on his plate was on the list. Sometimes he tried things off my plate and we added those to the list too.
This is one method we use currently. Ever since we added a CSA box into our diet , and with plans of growing our own produce next year, it has become increasingly more important to add some variety into our meals. The kids love coming to pick up our CSA box with me and we have started a new routine of washing and processing all of our fruits and veggies as soon as we get them home.
This is the time when the kids “sample” everything we have. Everyone tries one little piece of EVERYTHING we got in out box that week, even if it is something they have tried before. I have found that if they get to try things this way they are far more receptive to eating them when they appear on their plate. I let the kids decide what they do and don’t like and for the most part they like everything we try. Then when it appears on their plate I remind them that this is the exact same thing we sampled and liked before and they usually say okay and eat it.
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Just like it sounds this method involves choices. If you know me at all in an educational setting or have ever taken a class from me you know that I am a firm believer in choices. I believe that most of our arguments and battles with our children stem from their perceived lack of control in their own lives. In any situation where you offer choices you need to be 100% okay with everything you offer as a choice. I make a point of my children getting at least one fruit, one veggie, a protein and a grain with each meal.
This means that I have to have at least 8 choices available depending on what we are having. There are many nights when I am able to only have choices for 1 or 2 of those components because I know my kids like the others. This means that I will offer my kids the choice between baby tomatoes or carrots, snap peas or broccoli, raspberries or apple slices, a veggie burger or a hamburger, a hot dog or a veggie burger or any number of other combinations. This can be adapted to any diet! Simply offering the choice between a ham and cheese sandwich or a ham or cheese sandwich. This does not mean preparing many different meals rather only offering choices that you already have on hand. Sometimes I go so far as to offer a sandwich with the crusts or without. Giving them the power takes the strain off of your relationship!
Along with serving meals with many components, especially when dealing with picky eaters, there is often a fight about foods touching. I picked up a couple of these really cute cafeteria style trays at goodwill a few years ago for $1. I continue to pick them up as I see them because they have worked so well for us, you can also buy them here! This enables the kids to choose their components and eat them how they like. For example, the other night I served a BBQ pulled pork salad. I knew that presented with that they would all throw a fit and no one would eat. Instead I put each of the components into a different part of the tray and let them either mix them up or eat them separate. This alleviated so much of the fighting over what I served. This way even if they choose not to eat one part of the meal they can still eat the rest without it being “contaminated!”
This strategy was born of the crazy single parent, grad school student days. My son would wake up very early in the morning after I had been up late studying and writing lesson plans. I really needed to sleep and he was hungry so started a snack drawer. I dedicated one drawer in the fridge and one in the cupboards to snacks that he was free to help himself to. I would include pre-sliced apples and oranges, string cheese, yogurt and other healthy snacks in the fridge and granola bars, fruit leather, and trail mix in the cupboard. This way he could choose what he was hungry for and I could sleep.
We still use this exact same method today only instead of those early morning hours it is primarily for those after dinner before bed snacks. By the end of the day I have prepared 3 full meals and countless snacks and I am over it. This allows the kids to get something to eat and give me a break without a battle.