Picky Eaters are Totally Normal … Here’s How to Deal!

pickiest eaters - owen

My least favorite part of parenting is feeding my kids. I start stressing as soon as it’s time to start solid foods. Making sure my kids are eating healthy, balanced diets is a huge task, and one that my brain often doesn’t know how to handle. Add to that the fact that kids have opinions (how dare they?!) and may or may not actually eat the food I provide them, and you can see why feeding little people is not my favorite.

My girls are 7 and 10 and have settled into pretty good food routines. My 3-year-old son Owen, however, is giving me a run for my money. It’s like he has a fruits and vegetables radar or something. And a protein radar. Actually, it’s probably just a healthy food in general radar. Whatever the radar, it’s making me crazy!

I started asking friends and fellow bloggers about their picky eaters, and knowing that they have experienced similar grievances made me feel a lot better about my situation. Here are examples of their picky eaters, along with helpful info and tips for your little fussy boy or girl.

Some Picky Eaters

Picky Eaters

  • My friend Jenna said that her son Daniel will only eat pasta in certain shapes. Since pasta tastes … oh wait … exactly the same no matter the shape. Yeah, makes totally sense! (Insert sarcastic emoji.)
  • My friend Chrysula’s son won’t eat meat. He’s almost completely vegetarian all on his own. When they started baby food years ago, he would not eat any food with meat mixed in. Not that being a vegetarian is bad (in fact it can be really great!), but having a kid who won’t eat meat when the rest of the family does just makes things a bit more complicated.
  • My friend Amy’s son will only eat green veggies if they are roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Fix them any other way and fuhgeddaboudit.
  • Another friend told me her daughter would NOT eat raisins, but she would eat “dried grapes.” This made me laugh!

As I’ve discovered, there are lots of picky eaters out there. We are not alone in our struggle! But what do we do about it, especially since the pickiness is so varied from kid to kid? First of all, while it’s not always logical or predictable, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it makes things more complicated. Yes, it can make feeding kids incredibly frustrating. But it’s not always bad. And it is most definitely normal.

My friend Tracy from Shutterbean has a son Cooper who is super picky. When she talks about it, one of the things that really shines through is that, despite the frustration, she feels like she’s really gotten to know her son well through the process of feeding him and she’s grateful for that. So, let’s take a moment to breathe, give ourselves a break, and get to know our children better.

To help, here are some great insights into feeding picky eaters that I’ve learned from the real experts — moms on the frontlines fighting the good fight every day!

Picky Eaters 101

Picky Eaters

1. Picky Eaters Are Completely Normal

I would hazard a guess that kids who are never picky about food are the exception rather than the rule. Kids naturally like bland and/or sweet foods. Yes, we need to introduce all kinds of foods and, yes, they might not like a lot of it, at least in the early years. But there is no need to beat ourselves up if our kids are picky.

Shelley from Two Healthy Kitchens has twins and from the beginning her two children approached food completely differently. Her son is always adventurous with food and likes lots of flavor. Her daughter, on the other hand, is suspicious of new food and sensitive to texture and flavor. Same household, same parent, same foods introduced to them. And yet one child is picky and the other is not!

Bottom line: take it easy on yourself! Picky eating is normal and often just a phase. You can weather the storm!

2. Kids Like Food Uncomplicated

One common theme I have seen with all my friends’ picky eaters is that the simpler the food and presentation, the better things go. It’s amazing how many kids don’t like their foods mixed together. My friend Amanda’s daughter separates the fat from the meat when she eats bacon and my friend Christy’s daughter actually peels garbanzo beans!

This was a major “AHA!” moment for me. I could never figure out why, if I fed my kids a salad with five ingredients I knew they loved, no one would eat it. I have finally figured out that, when I separate those same ingredients, my kids are almost 100% more likely to eat the same food they otherwise would have rejected.

I think when kids can see clearly what they’re eating, they feel like they have more choice and control. The food is also more predictable and trustworthy, so your kids know what they’re getting into. Tracy said she is super thoughtful about what plates she uses for Cooper’s food, including those with separate sections. Genius!

3. No Thank You Bites

I had several friends mention “no thank you bites” and I love the concept! Essentially the child has to try at least one bite of whatever food it is that he or she thinks they don’t want to eat. After that bite they can either say, “No, thank you” or “Yes, please” and move on with dinner from there. My friend Alison says that her son Michael has basically only had one bite of vegetable at dinner forever, but at least he’s getting something and she’s pretty sure he’ll come around at some point. Tracy also uses this technique and feels that it takes the pressure off kids to feel like they need to like something for their parents’ sake.

Picky Eater Tips

Picky Eaters

1. Get Creative!

Creativity can go a long way. Whether it is creative presentation (enter fun-shaped food!), games, or funny names, creativity can often save the day. I find that my daughters can sometimes be more creative than me and get further with Owen and his veggies than I can!

Jackie from The Beeroness said she always renames foods and then her daughter will eat them. Mashed potatoes are “french fry middles,” grilled cheese sandwiches are “quesadilla sandwiches,” lasagna is “pizza noodles,” and pesto is “Ninja Turtle sauce.” She swears by the method and says it works every time!

2. Be Patient and Treat Each Child as an Individual

Every child is different and patience is often the key to unlocking each child’s needs. For example, my friend Tasha’s son Luke was super picky. The situation got so frustrating they ended up visiting with a food therapist, where they discovered Luke had severe acid reflux. They figured out what foods were aggravating the problem and this helped tremendously. After that, they slowly introduced various foods to Luke, giving him time to really explore each and see if it worked for him. Yep, lots of patience involved, but it is totally worth it!

3. Keep on Keepin’ On!

I think the biggest thing is to keep trying. Food pickiness is usually a phase (fair warning: some phases are longer than others!). Just keep offering great food and eventually your kids will think it’s as great as you do! And, when your kid refuses to eat the food he ate just two days before, well, just remember we’ve all been there. Keep on keepin’ on!

Kelly from Eclectic Momsense described how her son refused to eat anything orange, despite the fact that it was his favorite “food group” as a baby. She just keeps serving healthy orange foods and figures one day he’ll get back in the groove. The best part is that she herself did not eat a whole strawberry until she was 27 years old. The moral of the story? Sometimes those picky phases are long!

When all else fails, as my friend Alison always says, ketchup is a savior! (Well, unless, your kid doesn’t like ketchup.)

Image source: Jane Maynard / Shutterbean / Two Healthy Kitchens / Alison Poirier

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