My daughter: “I don’t like peas anymore because of the wrappers!”
Me: “I’m sorry, the what?”
My daughter: “I hate mash potatoes!”
Me: “Not ‘hate’, ‘dislike’ and you’ve never had them before.”
My daughter: “I’d like pizza with no sauce, meat or cheese.”
Me: “Then it’s not pizza, it’s crust, which is essentially just bread, which doesn’t constitute dinner.”
My daughter’s inexplicable food aversions started young; I caught her feeding the dog her mini bites of grilled cheese from her high chair. All she had to do was look at a new food and her lips would clamp shut like a clam hiding a prized pearl.
On top of that her natural body composition is willowy and she was always in the lowest percentile of the growth chart. As first time parents, my husband and I constantly worried if she was getting enough nutrients. Would it affect her physical development? Her mental development?
So we did what any nervous parent would do and marched her into the pediatrician’s office…maybe a few different pediatricians’ offices.
The advice was always the same. Present her with a well-rounded meal – protein, vegetables, grains and fruit – in appropriate portions for a child. Do this at every meal. But, NEVER, NEVER, force her to eat. We were told doing so could cause eating disorders. And, that’s all I needed to hear.
It was the same advice I shared with a preschool teacher who was intent on getting our daughter to eat all of her snack and lunch at school every day. I told her that she should never force our daughter to eat and relayed the words of our pediatricians.
Several years later, my daughter still isn’t a perfect eater and won’t touch a “green pea wrapper” (which is just the skin on the peas that I had never noticed before she mentioned it). But, we’ve found healthy foods she enjoys to eat when she is hungry.
We’ve also reduced the stress around mealtime – eliminating the nagging (“Eat your carrots, eat your carrots, eat your carrots!”), negotiating (“If you eat your chicken you can watch TV.”) and threatening “(If you don’t finish your dinner we’ll take away your toys!”).
Like one of my daughter’s pediatrician’s said. Children won’t starve themselves. They will eat when they are hungry.
Here are a few tactics I’ve used with my daughter at mealtime:
Unhappy with all the food I was throwing away, I reduced the portion sizes I offered on her plate. I realized she was actually overwhelmed by large quantities and more willing to eat when I served her fewer pieces of chicken or fruit. I am always happy to give her more upon request. Some days she’ll ask for two or three bowls of strawberries or cucumber.
We also eliminated meal-time distractions. TV, coloring books and oftentimes other children are more interesting than what’s on her plate.
As she got older, I involved my daughter in the preparation of meals – letting her measure, pour, gather ingredients and stir. As a result, she was more likely to try new dishes and foods that she had a hand in preparing.
Reserve granola bars and other tempting snack foods for special treats. If my daughter knew there was an Annie’s Chocolate Chip Granola Bar in the house, she wouldn’t touch another food. We still love Annie’s but I hide them in the back of the pantry. Out of sight, out of mind.
To the snack point, my daughter loves the word “snack” and anything she believes is a snack food. So I started calling things like yogurt, fruit, hummus and carrots “snacks” and it actually worked.
Have a method that worked for your child? I would love to hear about it in the Comments section!
Here are several articles and studies that I also found helpful when dealing with my little fickle foodie:
The Nurturers Curse (Psychology Today)
Bad Eating Habits Can Start in Daycare (Reuters)
Top 10 Tips to Help Children Develop Healthy Habits (American Heart Association)
5 Do’s and Don’ts for Teaching Kids Good Eating Habits (Cleveland Clinic)