Jasper will eat almost anything — he’ll at least try it. Magnolia, on the other hand — who has an absolutely iron-clad will — will not. She’s not particularly interested in or motivated by food, and there are very few things (save for the above-reproach PB&J), that she greets with enthusiasm. In fact, mealtime often begins with her coming to the table and practically bursting into tears when she sees what’s being served — “oh, not that again! You know I don’t like it!”
Thus the dinner table becomes a battlefield. Her will against mine. I don’t offer to hop up and make her something else, but I do invest a lot of time and energy in trying to get her to eat what’s on the plate in front of her. I bribe, cajole, encourage, and threaten. I become exasperated. It’s exhausting.
Honestly, it annoys me that her food repertoire is so tiny. Potatoes? Hates them. Avocado? Finds it disgusting. Tomato sauce on anything other than pizza? Not happening. It’s not that I haven’t tried serving these and many other things repeatedly — I have. But we’re not making the progress I’d like. And I’m tired of arguing. So I did a little research on tips, tricks, and recipes that can help a picky eater branch out — and also help a frustrated mom take mealtimes more in stride.
Here’s the best of what I found, and what I’m going to try.
Let it go!
Parenting.com has a good article on Raising an Adventurous Eater. The first “rule” is the widely well-known “Don’t be a short-order cook.” I’m totally down with that, and I’m not. But the piece of this I found interesting, and that I’m going to try to take to heart, is that I have to let Magnolia‘s lack of interest in food GO sometimes. I’m not jumping up to make a PB&J at dinnertime, but I do spend way too much time trying to coax her. There’s a quote in the piece from the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Children will not become ill or suffer permanently if they refuse a meal or two, but parents sometimes act at though youngsters might shrivel up and die.”
OK, you don’t want to eat, don’t. And I’ll try to remember not to belabor the point.
The article also had a veggie recipe I’d like to try — a way to get them to eat a vegetable that isn’t just something green steamed on the side. It’s Smashed Peas with Rice and it involves those things plus basil and grated Parmesan cheese — seems like a good new option to work into the weekly menu. Or to put out with pita chips or crackers before a meal begins, instead of the usual boring old sliced raw carrots I put out for them to munch on.
Keep serving up the foods they won’t touch. Again and again. And then again.
CafeMom’s The Stir also has a piece on Raising an Adventurous Eater — in addition to instructing moms not to shy away from spices when cooking for kids (and I am totally guilty of this), it also reminds us to keep trying those foods that kids shun. A child might have to be introduced to a food up to 15 times before she’ll give it a try! (Although I’m guessing with Magnolia that number is probably even higher….) Still, I have to put aside how much it bums me out when the dinner begins in tears and complaints and just KEEP AT IT with the potatoes and avocado.
Work in healthy foods whenever you can — it doesn’t have to be at dinnertime.
An article on Parents.com gave me this tip: focus on snacks instead of worrying about mealtime. Make the snacks healthy, whole foods, and you’ll know your picky eater is getting good stuff in her diet even if it’s not routinely happening at mealtime.
Give up the idea that they should clean their plates — focus instead on a few bites of this and a few bites of that.
Babble‘s take on the issue involves Picky-Eater Mind Games since, after all, this comes down to control. And I definitely do see that employing a little reverse psych on Magnolia sometimes helps — don’t eat that! No, don’t do it! Nooo! (Willful child inserts food in mouth.) There are a few tactics in the Babble article worth trying — although some of them seem like a LOT of verbal effort, which I’d like to cut back on rather than amp up at the dinner table — but here are the two that spoke to me.
You have to let your food take turns! After a bite of chicken, broccoli gets a turn and then rice, too. It seems like this is a playground and classroom rule the kids might understand and allow to be translated to the foods on their plate. No fair skipping the asparagus! He gets a turn, too. (OK, we’ll see on this one.)
Trying new foods is more important than clearing your plate. Magnolia is a slooooow eater. Even when it’s a meal she’s interested in, it can take her a while to get going, and even longer to eat it all (meanwhile, Jasper typically hoovers everything placed in front of him in about 3 minutes.) But focusing more on trying a little bit of everything — especially something new or that she’s resistant to — seems like a good strategy. Have at least a bite or two of everything, and then we can be done.
Bribery is a fact of life (at least for this mama.)
The Mayo Clinic has its own list of Tips for Picky Eaters, and confirms the “don’t force a meal or a snack” thing. Let your kid eat when they’re hungry and don’t push the issue if they aren’t. It may only serve to reinforce the power struggle over food.
They also say you shouldn’t bribe your kid with dessert as a reward — this teaches them that dessert is the best part of the meal, and may encourage them to have more of a sweet tooth. But let’s face it — dessert IS the best part of the meal. And this particular bribe will sometimes do the trick — I’m not giving it up entirely. Besides, dessert doesn’t have to mean chocolate cake or ice cream — yogurt or fruit as a bribe will often get the job done, too.
A twist on the buttered-pasta fall-back meal: Brown Butter Cauliflower Pasta
One Hungry Mama (love her) has a delicious-sounding pasta dish that I want to try out on my kids — it sounds like an easy way to work in a (non-green!) veggie. Pasta gets a break from the usual peas or broccoli by being tossed with buttery cauliflower, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan. Yum.
The baby bird trick.
This one is my own and, while it may sound a little wacky, it often works with Magnolia. It changes the power struggle into a game and usually results in getting a few bites of something into her mouth. “Hey, baby bird, are you hungry?,” I ask. She pretends to be a baby bird with its mouth hanging open — mama bird drops a bite of food in. We’re all one step closer to being done with dinner. Hallelujah.
Any tips or tricks that work for your picky eater? I’m listening!
(winged heart bento box by gameme on flickr)