When my kids were babies, I thought the feeding business was a breeze. Smash something up, stick it on a spoon, and they were good to go. Try to alternate colors, get a balance of fruits, veggies, protein, and grains—no problem.
Then Peatie hit 18 months. Suddenly he didn’t like meat, except hot dogs. He liked only one vegetable at a time, but he’d switch his preferred vegetable every few weeks—just after I had given in and bought a bulk supply of the last one. He’d eat spaghetti noodles if they had tomato sauce, but he wouldn’t eat any other type of noodle or sauce. And then he hit two. Then he didn’t like hot dogs. Or vegetables. Or noodles. Or much of anything except vanilla yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and bread products.
I’m impressed to report that my mother kept her mouth firmly shut—no gloating or cackling detected. She was the one, after all, hoping that I’d have a child just like myself. (My family commonly claims that I survived most of my childhood on applesauce, since I didn’t like much else.) Instead, my mother merely informed me, “You can’t force a child to chew and swallow. Offer and encourage healthy choices, but it’s not worth making mealtimes into a battle ground.”
As Goobie hit that dreaded 18-month mark and turned picky as well (though thankfully less so than Peatie), I began to ponder my options. Meal-making had turned into a crazy affair in which I prepared something tasty for myself and ‘Love and then tried to figure out what in the world the kids would eat. I didn’t want to turn meal-times into a battle zone, but I also wanted my children to experience the joy of a wide range of foods (and the decreased anxiety that goes with being not-so-picky) at an earlier age than I did.
I read extensively on the topic of picky eating. I ran across views ranging from, “Just make them whatever they like; they’ll grow out of it,” to, “Make your meal and set it out; if they’re hungry enough they’ll eat.” I also ran across folks with personal stories attesting to the failure of both of these extremes. After some pondering and discussion, ‘Love and I chose a middle ground. Here’s how we do it:
- I make a meal. I serve each person a small helping of everything on the table. Each person must take a taste of everything, even if it’s something that they claim to despise. If they can’t swallow their taste, that’s fine—it just needs to make it in their mouth for their tongue to get used to.
- If I’ve served them something I know they DO like, they must finish their small serving of it before having seconds of anything else.
- My initial servings are small enough that I expect my kids to clean their plates (unless there’s something they tried and dislike) AND most likely still request seconds of something. If they can’t finish that small serving of healthy food, I save it for snack time; we don’t eat snack foods unless we’ve eaten our meals.
- When I make meals, I do try to take my kids’ tastes into account. If I know they’re not likely to appreciate the taste or texture of the main course, I ensure that I have two side dishes that they’ll eat. With some encouragement, they’ve broadened their veggie likes again, and a starch is almost always a guarantee.
- If I can easily accommodate likes and dislikes with minor adjustments to recipes, I do so. Since Peatie likes tater tots but not the sauce of the Tater Tot Casserole I make, I throw a few tots on a tray alongside the casserole dish. He still has to try the casserole, but he can then have some dry tots. It’s no skin off my nose, and he eats more fried-potato goodness.
This system works for our family—our personalities, our style of interaction. I was actually surprised that Peatie went along with the “one taste” system as easily as he did; Goobie just followed her big brother’s lead. It’s not like our kids suddenly eat everything, but Peatie will sometimes take a second bite of something (or more rarely discover a passion for a new food—like olives!), and Goober is rediscovering the fact that she likes nearly every food under the sun. I, meanwhile, am enjoying our low-stress system while feeling like I am helping my kids to become more well-rounded eaters.
What’s your family policy about mealtimes?