"Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table." -William Shakespeare

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tips for Picky Eaters

I learned a lot about feeding picky eaters from my grandmother. When my oldest was a toddler, she would cut his food up into tiny bites, put it on a dessert plate and stick some toothpicks into some of the pieces. It never failed to amaze me how much more he enjoyed eating with little helps like that.

Over the years I have developed a set of strategies to use with my picky eaters. (My children tend to be pickiest when their allergies are acting up, most notably hay season in the fall and early blooming season in the spring.)

-Problem foods don't live here. For my kids, that means store-bought crackers never come home in our shopping bags. For other children it might mean a long fast from cheese or cow's milk... I know some kids who will literally scream for cheese or milk when other foods are served. These foods might be allowed away from home, when eating with friends. But since the bulk of anyone's eating happens at home, simply excluding 'addictive' foods from your kitchen can be really helpful in avoiding fights over them.

(Is this cruel? That's what many people think. But I don't think so. When my kids ask for crackers I don't say "no," I say, "we don't have any." No yelling, no bickering. And generally kids will eat when they get hungry. I don't think it hurts a child to refuse to eat while figuring out that mom really means there's no cheese in the house.

-Reasonable portioning. When our oldest was a toddler, my husband thought he didn't eat enough. We were putting food on a dinner plate for him and my husband would get upset when he didn't finish. I started serving his food in small portions on a dessert plate and then he would ask for seconds! Don't serve food to little people on big people plates. Use salad plates for 5 or 6-12 year olds; dessert plates for 1-4 or 5 year olds.

Portions for children: If you serve yourself 1 cup of raw carrots, serve 1/4 cup to small children. If you eat a whole pb&j, maybe serve your child 1/4 to 1/2 a sandwich. They will always ask for seconds if they want more! For instance, the newest dietary recommendations for a 2-3 year old: 3 ounces grains (1/2c rice, 1/2c oatmeal, 1 slice bread), 16 ounces milk (or equivalent dairy), 2 ounces meat (1 egg and 1Tablespoon pb), 1c fruit, 1c veggies, and 3t fat (butter, salad dressing, etc). This is not that much food. You add extra servings for extra-active kids, like mine!!!

-Always let the child shop with you. Even if your child is a terror in the grocery store! Take him or her and let him or her choose a couple bright fruits and veggies to try. If your child screams for cookies when walking down that aisle, it may need to be an extra trip you take with your children, after the basic shopping is done. Go straight to the produce and only shop there. But I'd rather put in this type of positive effort than fight at the table, myslef. It's about teaching lifelong habits and developing good health habits, too. Hassle? Yes. Worth the work? Yes.

-Make food fun. Tiny bites, eating with toothpicks or chopsticks, using an icecube tray or other snack tray like this trayfor individual bits of food, cookie cutters in your child's favorite shapes, and the like seem time-consuming and annoying, but it pays off.

is not a bento box, but a baby-food storage tray. We have repurposed it into an AWESOME nibble tray/ toddler bento box. It is made by the company BEABA and I'll be doing a full review next week. (It's lid is water tight!)

Hobby Lobby usually has sturdy cutters for 50 cents or a dollar. Let your picky eaters each choose a couple, for apple slices, sandwiches, cucumber, etc. Also, Amazon sells this setof super-fun shape cutters great for bananas, zucchini, carrots, apples, you name it.

-Let yourself and your children get hungry. Again, some mamas think this is 'mean,' but I totally disagree, and this comes from a very gentle-discipline sort of mother. Go to the park or take a loooong walk with a big water bottle, but no snacks, while your lentil casserole cooks in the crock pot. It is AMAZING how much better food tastes when you are REALLY hungry!

-Let the children 'cook.' Here is Rosie sprinkling "cheese" (nutritional yeast)
on her homemade personal pizza. She rolled the bread dough out, spread the sauce and ground beef, and after cooking decorated it with "cheese." She ate every bite! Your little person might like to cut lettuce with scissors for the salad, sprinkle nuts or seeds on the oatmeal, use cookie cutters on their sandwiches or toast, etc. Have them stir the ingredients into the granola, push the buttons on the blender, anything they want to help with!

(I recently purchased John Paul a set of train silverware for his meals because we're low on kid forks and he loves them. Silly things like this really help a 2 year old try new foods, in my experience.)

I'd love to hear YOUR tricks for picky eaters! Leave a comment and get entered in the drawing for some fun lunch tools at the end of April.

"How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young?"
-Paul Sweeney


  1. I grew up eating veggies all the time. My husband is from the Azores and veggies consisted of potatoes, carrots and corn - that's it!

    In order to get veggies added, I would take the children shopping and each week they would pick one new veggie to try. This gave them the choice and they knew if they didn't like it they didn't have to finish the serving.

    We have added to our favorite veggie list: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, artichoke, spaghetti squash, and asparagus.

    I am thrilled and the littles are eating more veggies (and helping to grow many of those in the garden) My husband: is getting used to eating different veggies.

    Fun topic - looking forward to more ideas


  2. Haha, I do the little pieces with a toothpick thing too! :)

  3. Great tips! I like the toothpick idea! Sometimes it's all in the presentation.

  4. Great post!!! I needed to read this tonight!

  5. I always give them milk for toddlers after meal time so it won't ruin their apetite.