Having 4 kids, with one on the way, I can tell you about plenty of eating experiences I’ve had with my children and their often picky palettes. Most children will go through a phase of pickiness, and there are some foods that certain kids just don’t like. Really, I can’t blame them for the most part. I mean, I don’t like everything. Do you? God created each of us as individuals with certain likes and dislikes that are uniquely ours, and that includes food. But this post isn’t for those normal food preferences we all have. This post is about how I created a monster (ahem…toddler) that wouldn’t eat more than a handful of things for almost 2 years straight! I hope this can prevent someone else from unknowingly following in my footsteps.
My son, my second-born child, is the king of all picky eaters. And I now know it is my fault. I can look back and see where I went wrong. When he first started eating solid food, he would willingly try anything. Beans, meatballs, veggie lasagna…you name it. But then I fell into the Gerber trap. Right there in the aisle next to the baby food were these super cute little microwaveable baby meals. Gerber Graduates. Tiny little baby bite size ravioli’s with cheeses, meats, and veggies. The perfect consistency for a teething infant and toddler to gum down. And so convenient. Ready in just a few seconds with no messy clean up. I thought I had hit the baby feeding jackpot!
And right next to those were the snack containers with dime-sized rice snacks, perfect for baby to pick up with his new found finger dexterity. Not only was I feeding my child something that made him happy, I was improving his hand-eye coordination at the same time. Not to mention how convenient those were to throw in the diaper bag while we were heading out the door to one of big sister’s sporting events. I don’t even remember what they are called, we just called them “num-num’s.”
What I didn’t realize then, though, was that I was setting us up for future food failure. The problem with those nuggets of convenience? Their texture, taste, and smell are completely different from the real food that we full grown humans eat. My son didn’t want to graduate from his graduates!
As my little eater got bigger and got a mouth full of teeth, I started trying to give him the same food that the rest of the family was eating. Only he wasn’t having it. Now, had I persisted then I might have been able to nip his pickiness in the bud, but alas, I fell back on what was easy. It was easier for me to make him a separate meal from the rest of us, rather than fight with him and coerce him to eat at every meal. So I resorted to always having macaroni and cheese, pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or cereal ready for him at mealtimes. Because that was all he would eat. My little king sure had turned into a royal pain!
This went on for a couple years until finally, when he was about 4, my husband and I had had enough. For months dinner time was a battle field as we did everything we could think of to make him eat what was served. Most evenings ended with my little man and I both in tears. He would rather go to bed hungry every night than eat whatever was on his plate, unless it was one of the aforementioned “safe” foods. I was worried about his nutrition and worried about what kind of impression this would leave on him for the rest of his life. We had to change our strategy.
And we did. I started making the foods he liked, but first he would have to eat at least one bite of what everyone else was eating. It was a struggle at first, and sometimes an hour would pass before he would calm down and take the bite. Usually after he was done he would concede that it didn’t taste that bad. Still, he would only take the one bite. Eventually we worked up to a few more bites, until all he got for dinner was what everyone else had. It might only be 5-10 bites, but at least he was eating with the family. I still made him whatever he wanted to eat for breakfast and lunch.
He is now 6, and the category of foods he likes has grown by leaps and bounds. It is still a struggle to get him to try something new, and he is almost always the last one done eating. He likes to dawdle and thinks that if he waits long enough, we won’t make him finish. So now what I do is put a bite on his fork, and he has to eat it by time I count to 5. This is a hassle, especially since I also have a 4 and a 2 year old that I have to make sure are eating, but it’s such an improvement. Just tonight he said how much he likes carrots-which was a major melt-down food just a few months ago. The persistence has paid off!
For certain foods that I know he didn’t like, such as carrots, I would only put one small bite on his plate. After doing that with steak, green beans, and now carrots, he actually likes all those foods. It just took quite some time. And now I can actually get him to eat food out of his comfort zone at other meals, not just dinner.
I definitely learned my lesson. My other children were NEVER fed Gerber Graduates, and only very rarely fed baby food out of the jar. They learned to eat on the same foods the rest of us were eating, for the most part. And for the most part, I don’t have any pickiness issues with them. At least nothing even close to the picky habits I instilled in my son. I don’t ever want a repeat of that! I’ve learned that once you start making different meals for different people, it is a hard habit to break. Better to just serve the family meal to even the littlest eaters right from the start. Just make sure you mash or blend it up first.
Do you have any picky eaters in your family? What are some mealtime tricks you use in your home?