No More Dino Nuggets - Putting an End to Picky Eating Habits

I am so so excited to have my new friend Cole guest posting for Babywise blog day today. Cole is the newest member of our group and her blog is awesome. Everything I read of hers I am nodding my head "yes" at the computer screen halfway through the post. Today she is writing on something near and not so dear to my heart, PICKING EATING. (You can find me talking about Why We Chose Babywise For Our Family over at Natasha's Blog: Let's Be Brave.)
I love to cook, and I love to eat even more. I want to share the joy of cooking and eating good food with my kids. It's important to me that they grow up with positive memories of time spent around the dinner table, eating together. I want them to remember Mom's pulled pork and chocolate cream pie. I want them to taste all kinds of foods prepared all kinds of ways.

I DO NOT WANT TO BE SERVING CUT UP HOT DOGS AND DINO NUGGETS AT EVERY MEAL.

In my opinion, creating a well rounded eater is largely within the parent's control. It's true that some kids have the natural tendency to be pickier than others, but I think in most cases, extreme pickiness is a result of the parent overindulging their child's persnickety eating habits. All kids go through phases of pickiness. How you respond is what dictates whether or not it becomes a permanent trait.
With that in mind,  here are my strategies for putting an end to the pickiness:

1. SERVE A VARIETY OF FOODS, AND START EARLY:

Why do you think children from different cultures and geographical areas typically eat (and presumably like) such different foods from children in other areas? It has to do with exposure. Kids learn to like the foods they are served. In order for your kids to like a variety of foods, they have to be exposed to a variety of foods. If you always serve chicken, they'll probably scoff when you put pork on the plate. If you always serve fried vegetables, they'll probably turn their nose up at something steamed. The more used to trying new foods they are, the more readily they will taste a food they've never had before.
This method can start early, too. Regardless of whether you decide to offer purees follow a Baby Led Weaning approach, a baby is capable of eating what everyone else in the family is eating long before their first birthday. You don't have to stick to what's available in baby food jars, nor do you have to follow any recipes in a baby food cookbook. If you're doing purees, just put whatever you've cooked for the family into a food processor and give it a whirl. If you're doing BLW, cut size appropriate chunks of your food and put it on their tray. Do as you mean to go on; if you want your three year old to be accustomed to eating the family dinner, start serving him the family dinner before age 1.

2. STAY AWAY FROM THE SNACK HABIT:

For the most part, I do not offer my kids snacks in between meals. If I sense that one of them is going through a growth spurt or if dinner is going to be late that night, I may offer a piece of fruit between lunch and dinner, but those situations are rare. It's tempting to try to fix boredom or obedience issues by shoving a cup of goldfish in their hands when they're irritating you at Target, but in that case what they need is probably a nap, not a snack. Not serving snacks ensures that come mealtime, my kids are hungry. Hungry kids are less picky. Hungry kids eat more at mealtime, ensuring that they are properly fueled to make it to the next meal snackless.

3. NEVER OFFER ALTERNATIVES:

While I do frequently offer choices at breakfast and lunch (would you like a turkey sandwich or peanut butter and jelly?), I never offer alternatives once I decide what to serve. They have the choice to eat the meatloaf or not eat the meatloaf, but you won't find me whipping up quesadillas for them instead. I have a kitchen, not a restaurant.

4. DO NOT OFFER SECONDS UNTIL EVERYTHING ON THE PLATE IS EATEN:

I start out with a serving of each meal component. Let's say, for example, they're having chicken, potatoes, and brussel sprouts. Inevitably they will eat all the potatoes, half the chicken, and one brussel sprout and then ask for more potatoes. This is a no-go. They must eat everything on their plate before they are offered seconds of any one item. If they eat everything on their plate, I'll serve them more of whichever item they want (seconds, even thirds), but they have to eat that first serving of brussel sprouts before that's an option.

5. SHOW NO TOLERANCE FOR MEALTIME SHENANIGANS:

In my experience, if you put a plate of food in front of a hungry kid, they eat it. They don't flip the plate over, toss beans in their water, or stick rice up their nose. They're too busy eating. If those or other mealtime shenanigans start happening, I take it as a sign that they aren't really hungry and end the meal.

6. OFFER DESSERT AS AN INCENTIVE:

I know the better mom is either anti-dessert or serves something like apricots (which is the same thing as being anti-dessert), but I've found it to be a highly effective incentive for eating the meal. I have no shame in telling my kids they can have a slice of pie or a ding dong if they finish their vegetables. In my mind, broccoli and a brownie is healthier than no broccoli at all.

7. SERVE GOOD FOOD:

This probably goes without saying, but if you don't like cold, plain, unseasoned green beans, don't try to make your kids eat it. The idea isn't to get your children so hungry you can get by feeding them dog food; it's to get them to actually LIKE eating a wide variety of foods. Serve well balanced, well seasoned meals.

8. SHOW NO TOLERANCE FOR PICKINESS:

Typically the preceding 7 suggestions are enough to keep my kids eating well. Sure, they skip meals from time to time because they aren't hungry enough to eat whatever it is they don't like on the plate, but for the most part they eat a variety of foods. Every so often though, one of them will get into a bad habit of consistently refusing meals they don't like. They may go days eating only 1 bite of food for dinner and then gorging on breakfast (which usually consists of foods they like better). When I notice this happening, I do a little "pickniess bootcamp" where I offer the same exact food over and over until they eat it.
Here's how it works: let's say I serve a casserole for dinner and they choose not to eat it. Normally they would just go to bed without eating and that's the end of it, but during pickiness bootcamp I saran wrap their plate of casserole, stick it in the fridge, then reheat and serve at breakfast time. They don't eat it for breakfast? I saran wrap, reheat and serve at lunch time, and so on until they finally eat it. I continue doing this for a day or two until I can see that the pickiness has been broken and they go back to eating a variety of foods.
My approach to handling pickiness is firm and straight forward. By staying consistent, meal time rarely becomes a battle ground. Set your kids up for success by making sure they're hungry come dinner time, serve something tasty, and don't pull any punches when it comes to enforcing the standards you've set forth. You'll have your kids eating a variety of foods in no time.

Cole is wife to Eddie, mother to Vera, Abel, Mercedes, and Samuel, and lover of baby schedules and happy hour. She blogs at http://babywisetwins.wordpress.com.

Today is Babywise Friendly Blog Network Day. Be sure and check out the rest of the posts today!







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