Dealing with a Picky Eater
Of all the things I thought my child would be, a picky eater was not one of them. I was never a picky eater as a child. I loved to try new foods, at least for the most part. I do remember sitting at the dinner table at the age of six or seven wolfing down my green beans so that they would be gone and I could get to the good stuff. I never liked green beans much, and I still don't today. In the end, though, I ate whatever was on my plate until I was full. Now that I am an adult, I've found that I have some really good self control when it comes to eating. I eat what I know needs to be put in my body, I don't overeat, and I try my hardest to stay away from anything that is fried or processed. I do have a weakness for sweets, so I cannot say that I am a champion in that department, but I also find that I can maintain myself. With that being said, when Tad was born, I assumed that once he started solid foods it'd be no problem. My side of the family has good eaters, great eaters, who enjoy trying new things. And I never would have believed that being an opinionated eater was something genetic. Not even for a second!
Tad started eating solid food at four-months-old. I really didn't want him to start until six months, and I secretly hoped that we could wait an entire year. But he was a big baby, and we nursed every two hours for those first four months. He just needed more, and I'm glad I caved and gave him what he needed. He was full and happy, so I was happy. That was the time when he would eat whatever I gave him. He really didn't show too much preference, he would just grab and shovel anything that was set before him. He preferred vegetables and fruit over everything, but still tried little pieces of meat, cheese, and grain. I feel like when we reached the point where nursing disinterested him was when the pickiness started.
I remember sitting in a restaurant around that time and feeling so frustrated because my kid refused to eat everything in front of him. Tad completely quit nursing a week or so after his first birthday. We've been struggling since then, as he refuses to eat any meat, only particular dairy products, no bread or pasta, and nothing that he finds has a strange texture. I realize that he is only a toddler, still just a baby and not even yet two, and this makes me feel that the words picky eater don't apply to him. He's just trying to test my limits, right? Yet it's been almost half a year of food refusal, and that means that I've had to start experimenting. So I am here to share some tips, at least the things that have worked for us, to help get your toddler to eat the things they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I must also remind you that I am not a parenting expert and do not claim to be one (is anyone a parenting expert...?).
- Don't get frustrated. At least not physically, and don't let it show on your face. That's what they want. Tad now knows that I can lose my temper after spending a majority of my day planning what he will eat and then refusing to eat it - he knows it and uses it to his advantage. This is a toddler pastime, anyone who's had one knows this, and now I do as well. If there is a meal he refuses, sometimes it just takes some time for him to settle in and decide to eat. If he says no, I try my hardest to sit patiently and occupy my time doing something else, like reading or eating my own food. Once he realizes that I am disinterested in whether he's eating or not, he usually tries a couple of bites.
- Get creative. So, this tip can apply to a lot of things. I've never tried the trendy food-made-into-faces trick, but perhaps that's something that works for you. For us, it means letting him use his own spoon. Tad likes to pile his bits of food onto the end of the spoon with his fingers and then feed himself. It's helped him to eat everything on his plate because he thinks it's a game. I'm down with that, even if it makes mealtimes last much longer than anticipated. Another trick I use is eating in unique places. Most days, we eat on the living room floor. I know. You're probably thinking, "What?!" but that's just how it goes. His highchair attaches to a normal chair, and we only have one chair in our "dining room". So, I put the chair on the floor and sit next to him. This routine can get old, and although babies like routine, this kid thrives on new experiences. So sometimes we sit on the kitchen floor without the highchair, or I set him on the kitchen counter and he eats there. Sometimes we go outside and sit on the stoop to eat. This change of location helps him to forget that he feels forced to eat because we're in the "eating chair".
- Hide the good stuff. That tip just sounds bad, but I promise, it isnt'! My mom used to hide spinach in lasagna all of the time when I was a kid. I probably refused to eat spinach because it was always depicted negtaively in cartoons. Well, now I do the same for my son. On the days that he won't eat anything solid, I make him a smoothie or a pureed juice. In this, I can hide all kinds of things. Spinach, kale, celery, cucumbers, carrots, etc. All I have to do is cover it up with sweet things like strawberries, bananas, blueberries, yogurt, granola, oats, honey, peanut butter, etc. (By the way, those are all of Tad's favorite foods; I will include a list of the things we eat at the end of this post).
- Don't follow the rules. I remember reading during my pregnancy that children in France only eat three meals a day and one snack before supper. That means that if they ask their parents for food at any other time, the parents only allow the three meals and snack. I can't say that this is a bad idea; the article was written to make a point that US parents allow their kids to eat whatever and whenever they want, without any portion control, which can lead to childhood obesity. Okay, okay, I get it. Well, we strive to eat three meals a day, but sometimes I just have throw my hat to the wind and say, "Screw that!" Our days are all very different. Sometimes we skip meals, sometimes we eat all day, sometimes we make that three meal rule that they came up with. Lately, Tad's been skipping a lot of meals. I'm not sure why, but on days like that I try to get some really good things in him and things that will keep him fuller longer. That means we're drinking a lot of smoothies and eating a lot of rice and oatmeal. One day at a time, am I right?
- Don't give up. I think the most disappointing thing I see is parents who have just decided that their child is picky and give into the classic "kid foods" that are not nutritious and just get the job the done. Let me say, though, that however you need to get food into your child is what you need to be doing, so don't take that last statement as something coming from a judgmental standpoint... because it's not. What I'm saying is, if you feel like you can't get your child to eat the good stuff, don't give in to mac and cheese, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheese - you know, that stuff that's typically on the kid's menu. Not just yet. Once you've given up, then they've won, and it'll be a lot harder to move away from those stereotypical foods that are not good for your kid at all. You can do this; you are a strong parent!!!
Here is a comprehensive list of what Tad eats on a typical, daily basis. I've grouped them into time-based categories to make it a little bit easier to break-down, but we generally eat these items at any given time throughout the day. Also, let it be noted that Tad loves fruit, most vegetables and hates everything else. Apparently he was born a vegan, and I will forever be jealous.
- BREAKFAST. Oatmeal mixed with banana/blueberries/raspberries/fruit, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, and honey. Sometimes I'll toss in a little brown sugar and/or flaxseed. Pancakes without syrup. Breakfast sausage (on a good day). Mixed fruit.
- LUNCH. More fruit of any kind. Green beans. Corn on the cob. Mashed potatoes. Sweet potato puree mixed with Greek yogurt and a little cinnamon (this also works with any kind of sweet squash). Cheese quesadilla on a homemade tortilla. Smashed avocado with feta cheese. Saltines with peanut butter. Cooked beans and lentils. Elbow noodles stirred with a little butter and shredded mild cheddar - quick homemade mac and cheese. Cauliflower "mashed potatoes".
- SNACKS. Annie's Bunny Grahams. Fruit + Veggie food packs (we like Ella's). Pretzels. Fruit fruit fruit.
- SUPPER. Supper is very similar to lunch, along with trying to get him to eat what we're eating, which doesn't always work. Rice. Peas. Quinoa (new discovery!!!).
So, that's really about all he will eat right now. It seems like such a small list to me, but I pride myself that at least it's good food. Hopefully he opens up to some new textures as he gets older; I'd really like to get some cheese or other form of dairy other than milk or yogurt. I hope that these tips were something new and refreshing to you, and that I also did not come off sounding like a know-it-all. Again, these are just things that work for us! You got this, mamas and papas.