Previously, I covered a few outside-of-the-box ideas to get my kids eating, but, more importantly, I’ve made it clear that empowering the picky eater during the process is the biggest key to successful mealtimes.
Does it all have to be so serious? Of course not!
Over the past couple years I’ve seen photos of some dishes made by a handful of moms who took food artistry to a whole new level. I was in awe at how beautiful and creative their ideas were, but I think I came to one conclusion: I don’t love my kids that much.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme, but I honestly don’t think I’d have the time or patience to make such elaborate plates for my kids. And you know what? I think most moms would agree with me.
Don’t get me wrong though, I am still in awe of those women’s creations, but it will have to remain an art to admire, instead of an activity that I’ll participate in. I think Micky Mouse-shaped pancakes will be as good as it gets for me, other than the odd fondant cake or Rice Krispie volcano I make for family members. I will certainly be creating more culinary works for special occasions for my granddaughter, but I don’t have it in me to make a full cartoon scene for her at breakfast time. She’ll be lucky if the blueberries in her oatmeal make a Picasso-style design when I mix it up.
So what “fun” things can the average busy parental unit do with their picky eater?
Get Your Emotions in Check
The first thing to remember is that—like a grizzly bear—they sense your fear.
Although your child might be a growling bear like mine was in the morning, what I actually mean is—they read your emotions. If you are anxious, angry, frustrated, rushed, or stressed, they will be able to sense it.
Have you ever tried to hurriedly get your toddler down for a nap because you have a mountain of things to do while they sleep; yet they just won’t conk out in five minutes like usual? It’s not a coincidence. Your toddler is feeding off your energy. It’s the same with other negative situations like dealing with picky eaters. If they know you are pushing them towards something, they will push back consciously (or unconsciously).
Become a little more relaxed (maybe even with a hint of indifference) surrounding the issue. You might find that it works wonders.
Let Them Be Part of The Meal Preparation/Planning
Not every kid wants to help in the kitchen (or be the next Iron Chef) but some of them really do love the bonding experience—even if it’s just the opportunity to crack an egg, or carelessly yield a whisk as they act out the third scene from The Three Musketeers.
Yes, I said it—bribery.
Be smart with this though. Make it a game. Every personality is different, so you must first establish your child’s motivational hot button. If they are a materialistic child, promises of quality time with grandma as a reward for cleaning their room, won’t work. On the flipside, a five-dollar bill won’t be effective for a child who thrives on cuddling up and knitting tea cozies with old Aunt Bea.
So how do you bribe a picky eater?
Give them a goal. For instance, if they try one new food a week (something they’ve been unwilling to try in the past), they get a sticker on a chart. Once they get, let’s say, five stickers, they get a reward. Nothing extravagant (the dollar store franchises are awesome for prizes like this).
An important component of this game/bribery is to find compromises.
For example: If he refuses to try chicken, find a recipe with components of things he loves, and get that chicken into it. You’d be quite surprised how open-minded your child will be once he knows that you are trying to work with him instead of control him.
- Paint your faces like cats and eat like cats. All the while speaking in meowspeak.
- Give the offending food a goofy name and make a goofy recipe with it.
- Let them invent a recipe. My daughter and niece were allowed to make “swamp drink.” The only rule was that they had to taste their concoctions.
- Play restaurant.
Praise and Respect Them
Do not let me catch you uttering the phrase, “You are not leaving this table until you clean off your plate!”
I can tell you from personal experience, that kids have a willpower that can bring most parents to their knees. I was a very picky eater and, although it was boring sitting at the table for three hours before finally being sent to bed without dinner, I never relented. I always won when my mother tried to command me to eat something that grossed me out.
The above parental behavior will only cause the child to shut them down from any chance of culinary open-mindedness. Instead, praise them for making the effort to try something new (or something they’ve tried before and not liked).
Depending on their age, ask them what it is they don’t like about that food (i.e.: texture, bitterness, etc.). Although this won’t work for a child who doesn’t have a grasp of verbal skills, as your picky eater gets older, you’ll be better able to communicate with them.