Get That Picky Kid to Eat
For anyone who has a small child, you know that feeding them can be a real nightmare. Most of the food ends up on the tray, the floor, or on the child themselves rather than in their cute little stomach. Every meal is a battle that I go into, fully planning to win, but usually end up waving a white flag because I want my kid to eat something, ANYTHING! You start with good intentions and try to feed them vegetables. Green beans? Yeah, they end up on the floor. Carrots? Smeared all over the tray. And Peas? Don’t kid yourself. Those don’t even make it remotely close to their mouth. So now that you’ve lost the first battle, you move on to the next course where you have a slightly better chance of winning. You go to the trouble to make your child a grilled cheese sandwich, Mac-n-cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, chicken pot pie, spaghetti, etc. and they flat refuse to eat it, or they spit it out. Now what? You’re frustrated and they are screaming at you. So you move on to some yogurt, which they only take one bite of. The fruit gets spit out, and you end up giving them a graham cracker which they happily eat. Game, Set, Match. You just lost the nutritional mealtime war. And now you both need a bath after all the food that was thrown, and smeared into your hair. I’m not kidding; this actually happens at my house. Well, I might be exaggerating just a bit. Not every meal is a disaster, but more often than no,t I deal with a child who doesn’t want to eat anything I offer him. So instead of always being frustrated at mealtimes, I have come up with some simple tricks that I use to get my kid to eat, and some healthy recipes for every meal that my kid likes. (And if my picky kid likes them, yours will too!) Now, you may be wondering “who is writing this? Is it Crystal? Or maybe Jeff? “Because the last time you checked, they didn’t have a kid. My name is Lindsey and I am Crystal’s sister and Jeff’s sister-in-law. And now you may be thinking “what makes her qualified to tell me what and how to feed my kid?” Well, I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but I have an 18 month old son who is an extremely picky eater. And due to his pickiness, genetics, and possible other reasons (he has had multiple tests done), he is very underweight for his age. His weight has been a concern for about 6 months now, and I have talked to doctors and a nutritionist about what to do and how to get him to eat more food. Below are a few of the tips that the doctors and nutritionists have given me, and some are things I have come up with on my own:
Three Simple Tricks to Get that Picky Kid to Eat:
1. Don’t let them fill up on juice, water, milk etc. right before a meal. You know that if you have too much liquid before you eat it will fill you up, and the same goes for your little tyke. Make them wait until after the meal for a drink, and you’ll be surprised how much more food they will eat.
2. Distraction. Everybody has heard of using a spoon as an airplane in order to get a toddler to open their mouth. Well, that doesn’t work with my kid, but the concept of distraction is my favorite trick to use. I have found that keeping a young child’s hands busy makes their mouth open easier. So give them a toy, empty bottle, or anything that will keep your child’s attention during the meal. (Of course if you give them something like peas, I can’t promise distraction will work. Sorry!)
3. The last tip is to wait to the end of the meal to give them anything sweet. You might be thinking “Well, Duh!” but just a taste of something sweet (like fruit or yogurt) will keep them from eating those vegetables you desperately want them to have. My personal rule is to start the meal with vegetables and end it with fruit. When a kid is hungry they are a lot less likely to be picky about the green beans and carrots you are trying to give. After the vegetables, I move on to a main course, such as Mac-n-cheese, a small hamburger, or a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. At the end of the meal I finally let my kid have something sweet like fruit, yogurt, or a graham cracker. After I’m satisfied with how much he’s eaten, I let him have all the juice his little heart desires. (Because I’m sure that little guy is thirsty after eating all that food!)
Other Tips and Observations:
- I like to get my son to eat vegetables by serving him minestrone soup with noodles. He likes the tomato flavor of the soup and the noodles, and he willingly eats the good mixture of vegetables in the soup.
- Every kid has their own schedule during the day and I have found that there are a few times that you shouldn’t try to have your kid eat a meal or snack. Right before a nap or bedtime, along with right after a nap are never good times to start battles with your child over food. If you try to feed them when they are too tired, the outcome will almost always end with them screaming in your face. Likewise, if you try to feed them right after a nap they will flat refuse to eat at all. My personal rule is to feed them an hour before a nap and an hour after a nap. This way, they aren’t too tired to eat before they go to sleep, and they will have worked up an appetite after their nap. (Of course this rule is ideal and isn’t always realistic. Things come up and people are busy, but the closer you stay to the hour rule the happier, your little one will be to eat.)
- Since you never know when your child will flat refuse to eat, (and honestly, it could be any day) you should be giving them a vitamin supplement with iron every day. This ensures that your little one is getting all the nutrition that they need, even if they refuse to eat certain foods. I also specified that the supplement has to have iron, because young kids don’t always get enough of the mineral, and iron is needed to help produce red blood cells and delivery oxygen to the body, which is crucial to the growth of a developing toddler.
I’ve learned these tips and tricks through trial and error. Hopefully you can use some of these ideas to get your picky eater’s tummy full. There will always be battles, but with your new-found weaponry, you should win more often than not.
Crystal is the founder of Simply Playful Fare. She has been in the kitchen for as long as she can remember. She has a degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing.