Children are notorious for being picky eaters. Toddlers get an especially bad rap in this department. And it’s. for good reason.
Young children have limited palettes. They haven’t had time in their young life to get used to a variety of tastes and textures in food.
Also, let’s be real. We all know that ice cream is way more delicious than broccoli. As adults, we have the common sense to know that broccoli is healthier than ice cream.
We know that we need to make healthy choices… and if we don’t enjoy broccoli, we can choose another healthy vegetable.
But children don’t understand that, so of course they don’t want to eat healthy foods. But guess what mamas? It’s our job to teach and enforce healthy eating habits at a young age!
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When You’ve Done Everything Right and Still Have a Picky Eater
This should really be at the end of the post, BUT I wanted to put it first because there is something I need to make clear.
Sometimes, you have a picky eater, even when you’ve done everything right.
There are some children that have issues with different textures and tastes, and it’s a legitimate thing.
My 5-year-old, Theo has problems with some textures. He can’t eat anything “squishy” or anything with a potato like texture.
He actually throws up when he eats them.
He doesn’t like trying new foods and will decide he doesn’t like something based on the appearance.
My 3-year-old twins, on the other hand, eat pretty much whatever I put in front of them. We’ve parented all 3 of them the same way.
I still find ways for Theo to get a balanced diet and enjoy meals.
So if you’ve done everything right, and STILL have a picky eater? Keep on keepin’ on!
This Post Isn’t Intended to Make You Feel Guilty
My goal is to inspire and encourage! NEVER is it to make you feel guilty! If you’re reading this and are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by your child’s eating habits, I don’t want to make you feel worse.
BUT. Sometimes we do need a little push! Right? So if you need some inspiration, here it is!
1. Letting Them Free Range Snack
This is the number one reason your kids aren’t eating their meals. Every time they say “I’m hungry” they are given food. And usually something processed and full of sugar such as goldfish or granola bars.
Children who graze all day long won’t ever be truly hungry enough to eat a meal. And if they’re given a snack to carry around with them while they’re playing, and then we tell them that they have to sit at the table for dinner?
Of course they don’t want to!
Are all snacks inherently bad? No, of course not. So what’s the solution?
What to do instead
There are a few things you can do that are better than snacking all you can eat style.
- Provide fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods
- Have a set snack time that isn’t too close to meals
- Require that snacks be consumed sitting down and not while playing
- Give snacks on an as needed basis: have you been exerting more energy than usual? Do you think your child is actually hungry? Evaluate each situation as it arrises.
How We Handle Snacks
We have always been a non snacking family, mainly because my kids have always slept so much. When they were young toddlers, they slept in until 9:00, had nap from 1-4, and went to bed at 7:30.
I know. It was a crazy amount of sleep. And it also didn’t allow for snack time in between meals.
Now that Theo goes to preschool, he gets a snack at school. I always send him a package of organic Annies bunny snacks, as well as 1 fruit or 1 vegetable.
This summer, I initiated a daily snack time at 4:00 PM. The snack is typically something like a handful of crackers with some nuts and dried fruit.
I treat the snack like dessert: it is a reward. They only earn it if they stay quietly in their beds during nap/rest time.
Read –> The Best Healthy Snacks for Kids
2. Making a Separate Kids Meal
Within reason. If you’re making a spicy dish, then by all means, make something different for your children.
But if it’s appropriate food, then there is no need to make something different.
If we continuously only expect our children to eat kids food (hot dogs, Mac n cheese, chicken nuggets, etc), that’s all that they’re going to want to eat.
If they know that if they don’t touch their food you will make them a hot dog, they will hold out for the hot dog. Kids are smart. They won’t starve themselves.
What to do instead
- Include at least one item on your child’s plate that you KNOW they like. Theo doesn’t like chicken or potatoes. If we are having chicken and potatoes for dinner, I make sure that I include a vegetable that he likes, and will make a big salad and throw some nuts and avocado on his for some healthy fats and protein.
- Introduce new foods slowly: don’t make a meal with more than 1 new food
3. Having Unrealistic Rules
Your ultimate goal should always be for mealtimes to be a joyful time! If mealtimes are full of rules that are too strict, then it’s not going to be a good experience.
A good rule to follow is that the parents decide when and what for meals, and the child decides how much.
Forcing them to finish everything on their plates is unreasonable. As adults, we don’t always finish what’s on our plate. We get full. That’s a normalcy for adults and it should be a normalcy for children as well!
What do you do if your child says they are done and then wants food 30-minutes later?
This depends on a few things. The most important factor is age. A toddler doesn’t have the skills to understand that if they don’t eat now, they will be hungry later. A 3-year-old, however, is perfectly capable of understanding that.
The other thing to take into consideration is behavior. Is this a pattern? Did your child simply want to get down and play? Did they exert more energy than usual that day?
If they are 3 or older, and it’s a repeated behavior, remind them that after dinner, there is no more food. If they still choose to get down, then dinner is over and they have to wait until the morning.
Most importantly… if they choose not to eat their dinner and are hungry later, their only choice should be their leftover dinner food.
Our Mealtime Rules
Here are our mealtime rules for our kids at ages 3 and 5. At least once a week, we go over our mealtime rules before we start eating.
- Stay at the table until everyone is finished (unless one child is taking a really long time! We’re reasonable!)
- Try one bite of everything
- Finish all vegetables (Vegetables aren’t that many calories. Nobody is ever ‘too full’ to eat vegetables. If it’s a new vegetable or something we don’t have often, such as asparagus, I only give them one piece.)
- Finish everything on their plates to earn dessert
4. Letting Them Get Down From the Table as Soon As They’re ‘Done’
If your kids are in the middle of playing when they are called to dinner, chances are they are going to want to finish eating as quickly as they can so they can get back to playing.
Don’t let them leave the table as soon as they claim to be done.
We remind our children that dinner time is family time, and they can get back to playing once everyone has finished, they have asked to be excused, and put their plate in the dishwasher.
Now, we are reasonable about this! If there’s a child who’s pouting because they don’t want to finish their vegetables, I won’t make the other kids wait for them.
And I always remind them if they choose not to finish their dinner that they’re not getting another chance to eat.
5. Not Leading By Example
How many servings of fruits and vegetables are you eating daily?
If you, as an adult, aren’t eating the recommended amount of fruits and veggies, how can you expect it from your kids??
Think that’s harsh of me?
Eating a vegetable with dinner is not enough to get your required veggies!
I frequently see friends posting pictures of their dinner and sometimes there’s a small portion of a vegetable… but often I don’t see any vegetables at all.
I’m not trying to be the veggie police over here (<– although that’s a fantastic name), but your portion of vegetables to the rest of the food on your plate is supposed to be half.
Am I perfect? Absolutely not.
Do I always fill my plate with 1/2 vegetables? Nope.
But I do try REALLY HARD to do it most days.
Here are some easy ways you can include more veggies into your diet
- Add a salad to lunch or dinner in addition to your side vegetable
- Keep plain, frozen veggies in the freezer for busy nights
- Add greens to sandwiches
- Have raw veggies with hummus or guacamole
- Green smoothies
- Sub out cauliflower rice for regular rice
If we want our children to develop healthy eating habits, it is essential that we lead by example!
6. Forgetting You’re the Parent
I was at a Birthday party with my children and they were serving typical party food: pizza, cups with ranch dressing and baby carrots in them, fruit kabobs and Birthday cake.
I gave my kids their food (pizza, carrots, and fruit) and was met with comments from other parents.
“Wow! You’re kids are eating vegetables! Mine stopped eating vegetables when they turned 3.”
“My kids are just so picky. They don’t like vegetables anymore.”
Then I saw these parents not even attempt to give their children vegetables. They got second helpings of pizza as well as Birthday cake.
Ok. Now. I know it was a Birthday party, and that’s not really the place to demand that your children consume 3 baby carrots or else leave the party.
If my kids didn’t want to eat their carrot sticks, I wouldn’t have forced it. But I wouldn’t have given them more pizza and cake. I can say this with full confidence knowing that my kids are used to eating vegetables and they like carrots.
If my kids would have thrown a fit and refused to eat them? I can’t say for sure what I would have done. I don’t think that at a Birthday party for another child I would refuse to give them cake.
But at home? You aren’t getting more food OR cake until you eat your vegetables… because I’m the parent and I make the rules.
Saying that your kids don’t eat vegetables anymore is completely ridiculous. I say this with love. But it just is.
I can understand your kids not eating raw kale salad. I can see them having a dislike for a few vegetables. But if they want treats/dessert, then they need to eat their vegetables and you have the right as their parent to require them to do so.
I might get some heat from this and thaaaat’s OK. You can choose to disagree with me and run your household as you see fit 🙂