Oh, the picky eater. It’s the kind of thing that sometimes makes a Mom want to pull her hair out. It’s also the kind of thing that sometimes makes a Mom ashamed. Because, really, how do you tell the Mom that said her kids love carrots and hummus that your child has eaten 17 consecutive meals of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (crusts cut off) and cheese crackers.
I’m sorry, but it’s just hard to keep your Mom dignity when that happens. Or, maybe that’s just me.
We’ve dealt with (and still deal with) picky eaters at our house. Not all of the kids are picky, and not all of the adults are non-picky. (Like how I said that diplomatically?) But, I think we’ve made great strides on all of picky eater problems in our home.
10 Ideas to Help You Deal with a Picky Eater (and Get Them to Try New Foods)
1. Bribery – I’m not too proud to admit it. I’ve done it, and I would do it again. If you don’t want to click through the link to read about the bribery we’ve done, I’ll give you the quick overview of it. We gave each child (both the ones that were picky and the one that was not picky) a dime if they tried a new food (or retried something they didn’t like previously).
If they tried seven new things at the same meal, it would have still been a dime. So, the most I was out per meal was thirty cents. It was the single most effective thing for us, and was worth the money to us. (And, we eventually moved to a point where nobody remembered the money.)
I would not, however, offer other food as a bribe. I would rather they skip a carrot than to have eating a baby carrot mean they get a snack cake.
(Sorry that this is my longest explanation, but it was so successful for us with our picky eater situation. I imagine that I spent less than $20 between all of the kids in all of the time that we did it.)
2. Take Them Shopping – There is a lot of empowerment that comes in being the person who does the action and gets a say in how something happens. Once you’re there, why not go to a certain area of the store (produce is perfect!) and ask them to pick something they would like to try for the first time or retry that they hadn’t cared for before.
3. A Certain Number of Bites Rule – I know a lot of people do something like this. There are a variety of different numbers I’ve heard — a one bite rule, two bites, three bites, or even what my husband’s family called “a no thank you serving.” (This mentality meant, however, even if it was a food they had tried many, many, many times and still hated, they still had to eat the “no thank you” serving. I’m not really down with that, but maybe that’s just me.)
We don’t do this (exactly), but we have a similar number of bites rule. I’ll write about it in the number four.
4. Eat a Certain Amount, but With a Choice - At our house, there is no set number of bites, and the kids don’t have to try every single thing. But, I might say, “Okay, there are mushrooms and there’s zucchini. You need to eat take at least two pieces of one of those.”
This is always met with much more cheerful attitudes than the times I tell them I want them to try a certain number of bites for a particular food. We all love at least a couple of choices in life, right?
5. Plant a Garden – Once you plant that garden, don’t take care of it all by yourself. Have your picky eater (and the whole rest of the family!) help with the garden.
My kids are not thrilled about pulling weeds, though they will. But, they really love planting and harvesting. This gives them some ownership, and has often made them more willing to try something fresh.
6. Visit a Farmers Market – If you can’t have a garden (or even if you can), this is a fabulous way for your picky eater to be able to ask questions of people who are producing fresh foods to buy. This is the very thing that made a couple of my kids try honey for the first time. They were so pleased with the idea of the people we talked to having actually personally gotten the honey from the bees.
Now, I will admit something — they didn’t like the honey. But, they tried it. And, maybe they’ll try it again sometime.
7. Combine Favorite Foods with New Foods – This may be difficult, depending on what your picky eater’s favorite foods are. But, for instance, my eldest loves Asian-style fried rice. Because of his love for it, when a restaurant we went to added more things (peas, amongst other things) to their fried rice than he was used to, he ate it anyway, thus trying a new food. (And declaring, “I think I like peas.”)
Of course, rice makes this an easier option. However, some creativity can make a lot of food combinations possible.
8. Try Ethnic Foods – You never know what kind of food might interest your picky eater. When my husband and I started dating, he couldn’t remember having been to any restaurants that specialized in a specific regional/country food (except maybe Italian, if that counts).
(Oh yeah, this is the part where I have to point out that we were teenagers when we started dating.)
Yep — that means I took him for likely the first time ever to something like a Chinese restaurant. He was very uncertain about the whole idea, and he ended up loving it. Since then, we regularly eat country-specific restaurants – Greek, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, etc.
It became important to my husband, when we had kids, that they try lots of things like that. So, even my picky eaters have tried things like sushi, gyros, and more authentic tacos than you pick up at Taco Bell.
9. Positive Reinforcement – This really should have been higher on the list, but I don’t want to fix it. Give your picky eater verbal praise for trying new foods. Sometimes, when our kids have tried things that have really surprised us, we have gone so far as to call Grandma and Papa to tell them about it.
(I realize that last part probably sounds crazy to someone who has never had a seriously picky eater. Trust me, it’s exciting to have a child try and like raw spinach when they had a toddlerhood of chicken nuggets.)
10. Relax – Hang on. I think that “relax” was also my last suggestions for encouraging a reluctant reader as well, wasn’t it? Well, I still thinks it’s good advice. I try to get worked up about only the bigger issues in life. This one is important for their health, but you only have so much control over it.
If your picky eater thinks you’re going to fight with them over it every night, they might do it just to be obstinate. Kids sometimes don’t have control over a whole lot, and so they might really cling to the power they have over you with this. It may be the kind of fight where everyone loses. (This is the advice my pediatrician gave us about potty training. Best advice ever.)
(Note: If your picky eater child also seems to present many other sensory types of disturbances where things are “too” everything — loud, bright, hot, cold, whatever or the opposite problem where they are constantly seeking out more stimulation, you might want to have them checked out for sensory issues, such as Sensory Processing Disorder/Sensory Integration Dysfunction. These are real issues, and therapy can help!)