Picky eaters

Of all the challenges of parenthood, getting your picky eater to eat has got to be one of the most frustrating things ever! The situation can get so desperate that you’d be happy if they ate anything at all for dinner, never mind nutritious food! 

I know how rough it can be because I raised two of them. If you’re raising a picky eater too you probably just about ready to hog tie and force feed. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way! My kids are now eating all the things and I’ll show you exactly how to get the same result! 

Disclaimer: I was a picky eater too

My mom claims that I was also a picky eater although there is no proof of this. To this day, a running joke in my family is how long I take to finish my food. Same joke at every family get-together. I am a slow eater because I relish my food. I also have a thing about food textures which I don’t like mixed. 

Does that make me a picky eater? Maybe. But it comes as no surprise that my kids have the same little quirk. I enviously watch Ashley enjoy a bowl of trifle every year at Christmas. Although it looks good, the idea of the soft sponge cake with gooey jelly, finger biscuits, nuts etc all sharing a bowl gives me hives!

I totally got why my kids are the way they are and I’ve adapted to keep their food separate whenever possible. Instead of mixing sauce with spaghetti, I layer it on the top. Instead of putting stew on a bed of rice, I put it next to it. I even dish veggies separately and watch how they systematically work their way around a plate finishing one group at a time.

It’s weird but overcoming one issue like this that was a good start to getting them to eat!

You don’t want your picky eater to be targeted

My main problem with the kids being fussy over what they’d be willing to eat was that I didn’t want it to be a problem for them when they’re not eating at home.

I noticed at playschool how my kids would get into trouble when they didn’t finish all their food. I flew into a rage one day when I found out that Josh had been made to sit for hours on the naughty chair watching his friends play outside because he didn’t finish all his food. He hated the food served at playschool. His teacher was trying to punish him for not eating which is so wrong!

I was livid when she tried to justify her “punishment” and she saw my dark side. I am always very supportive of the teachers but I will fight for my kids when I feel they are being treated unfairly!

After that incident, I knew that I had to help them with their eating habits otherwise it might become a hindrance to them at every play date, party, family get-together, etc. Furthermore, I didn’t want them to get bullied throughout playschool either! 

With some hard work and creativity both our kids are now very enthusiastic eaters and will be willing to try almost anything at least once.

My motto is to try it at least once to see if you like it or not. You can’t say you don’t like it if you haven’t even tasted it!

Help for parents of picky eaters

Just know that I’m not the expert here. I tried some stuff and it didn’t work, I even tried scolding and standing on my head trying to get food into their bodies to no avail. These are the things that did work:

1. Your child will not starve

The first thing I want to say to moms and dads of picky eaters is to relax. I consulted our family doctor and he assured me that if there is food available, your child will not starve. A child, even a picky eater, will eat when their tummy feels hungry. It’s not worth your angst to force-feed them!

Sometimes even a few nibbles from the plate is a better than nothing! Rather dish up a smaller portion so it doesn’t overwhelm them. Let them ask for a second helping. It will make you feel like a superstar!

2. Be prepared to be sneaky

I’m not above hiding veggies in their food. The way they hated vegetables you’d swear it was kryptonite! To get some nutrition into their bodies I resorted to hiding it in the food they ate. You could argue that kids should know what they’re eating and why they should eat it. I wholeheartedly agree but when you’re desperate, you’re desperate! The rest will come in time!

Pureed vegetables work great as pasta sauce and in smoothies. Fruit like mashed bananas, grated apples or raisins go well in baked goods like muffins!

3. Let them help you cook

Alexandra loves to help in the kitchen because she likes the mess. That inspired me to get them involved with preparing our dinner!

They like to observe how raw food goes from hard to soft when cooked. When we’re chopping veggies, I always let them taste whatever vegetables I’m chopping up. I make it sound so exciting. That’s how they got into eating raw, crunchy vegetables like broccoli, peppers (which are nice and sweet) and carrots. Raw, steamed, baked or boiled, we taste it all while we’re cooking as an experiment. Now I actually keep fresh, washed and peeled carrots and raw vegetables in the fridge which they snack on.

4. Ask them to be a Tester

My kids fight over who’s turn it is to be the Tester in my kitchen. Even if it’s just eating a handful of cooked spaghetti, I want to know if it tastes good enough, if it needs salt, etc. it’s an important job and by the time dinner is served, the Tester has unknowingly eaten half their dinner! 

5. Introduce a new food every week

How we moved from eating nothing to a full plate was slowly. Like, really slowly. When they were eating the same food as us I started introducing one new food every week. For example, one week I’d make the one or two favorites but add broccoli (we call this “trees”). The next week there’d be the usual, broccoli and some carrots. For the whole week I’d cook that same new vegetable up in different ways to see what they like. By taking it slow they were introduced to new foods over time and ended up liking most of it. 

6. Teach them about what they’re eating

Children are naturally curious. It’s so easy to amaze them with 10 different facts about a cucumber! Once you get them hooked on where the food comes from (beef from cows, potato from the ground, etc), how it grows and why it’s good for the body, they’re sold!

I never imagined that one day my kids would insist on sprinkling chia seeds over their porridge and yoghurt, or that they’d eat a raw pepper as if it were an apple but it’s this is the new normal. They know why it’s good for them and that’s good enough to eat it!

Your public library is a great resource for books on nutrition written especially for kids and they love to learn! If your kids are old enough they the lyrical chef, Macka B on Youtube. His facts on nutritious food and healthy eating are presented in such a fun and lyrical way that our children enjoy their food all the more!

7. Have a fruit party

We love our fruit parties! Every new season, the kids go shopping with me for fruit. We check out all the seasonal fruit at the Food Lovers Market and they each get to choose one or two of a variety of seasonal fruits. Usually on a Saturday morning, we’d chop everything up, load them on trays and have a little fruit party to taste our new fruits! It’s fun!

Afterwards the kids have to draw a beautiful picture of the fruit they enjoyed the most for display. Alex won the last round with her painting of a giant smiling paw-paw!

This is basically how my kids went from being picky eaters to eating everything in sight. I can’t fill the fridge fast enough now! I almost missed the days they’d turn up their noses at their plates (almost!). But they’re happy and healthy and that’s all that matters. And one day they’ll be filling my fridge for me (when I’m old and grey haha) so it’s OK.

Comments make my day! Please leave me a comment below if you’ve found this at all helpful or have anything to add. Even if you just need sympathy. Trust me, we have ALL been there!