How do YOU get picky eaters eating?

by Susan

Sophia with banana

Dinner time with my girls is often my most dreaded time of day. My girls are what you might call “not-good eaters“… but each in entirely different ways.

Julia and SophiaSo as dinner time approaches, I can feel my inner stress building.

I just so desperately want them to eat a healthy dinner and not melt down and remind the neighbors how loud they can yell.

(I feed the girls dinner at about 5:30 pm, long before their Daddy has come home from work. Daddy comes home at about 7:00 pm just in time for stories and bedtime.)

Most of my Mommy Confessions revolve around tricks I play to get my girls to eat. And on most nights, with Julia, my trickery works like a charm. But… not so with Sophia.

You see, Julia came out of the womb not interested in eating. It took 5 days and as many lactation consultants to encourage her to nurse. When other babies were moving on to solids, she showed no interest. When purees were in the past for her friends, she still balked at the concept of chewing.

But at the recommendation of her pediatrician, I decided my biggest goal was to not turn eating into a power struggle between me and my little girl. So I just worked around her lack of interest in food.

I discovered with Julia that it wasn’t the particular food that she was opposed to… she didn’t generally like one food and not like another, she just wasn’t interested in food at all. Any of it. So to get her to eat, I would distract her with a book or a game and subtly keep slipping spoonfuls of food into her mouth.

And here’s a confession for you. I still do the same thing!

Yes, I will quite often feed my 4 year old her dinner by spooning it into her as I distract her with some type of game. One of my tricks is a little game we made up where I say something like, “Okay, show me hopping.” And then she will do something different like skipping. While she skips across the room and back, I call out it in fun voice, “That’s not hopping, that’s skipping!”

She laughs and comes takes a bite of food and we repeat with a different request.

On occasion, Sophia who LOVES to imitate Julia will play along as well and take bites of food. But… most of the time, feeding Sophia is entirely different.

Sophia-grapesSophia is more typical of a child and is INDEPENDENT. She does not like to be fed, she wants to feed herself. While that may seem like an easier (and clearly healthier) behavior, it means I cannot sneak into her whatever healthy food I want.

And like many toddlers, Sophia is picky. She doesn’t want her peas touching her pasta. In fact, she doesn’t want her peas at all. (She will throw a 30 minute tantrum if I put peas near her pasta.)

Most days, my tricks don’t work on Sophia.

So Ladies, I need your help… what are your suggestions and recipe ideas for feeding a picky two year old?

I do have Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook and we regularly use a few recipes. We sneak extra veggie purees in their macaroni and other meals.

I rejoice on days when I get the girls to eat our family dinner, but some extra foods that I rely on to fill in the gaps are:

  • Avocado – Sophia loves avocado and most evenings before bed I make up for her lack of dinner by feeding her bites of avocado at bath-time or story-time.
  • Bananas – Who could parent without bananas?
  • Fresh Apples and Pears — A staple around here.
  • Bottled/Canned Peach Slices — Sophia LOVES these.
  • Wraps with Cream Cheese — I try to sneak in chicken and avocado… Julia usually eats the full wrap, but Sophia usually wants only cream cheese in hers.
  • Kashi Cereals — My girls love the Go Lean original cereal and the Shredded Wheat in cinnamon flavor.
  • Heinz Toddler Cereal Bars — Sophia is addicted to these bars and starts every morning with one. She calls them her “num-nums”.
  • Plain Organic Yogurt — I try to keep my girls used to the flavor of plain yogurt.
  • Cottage Cheese — My girls will often eat cottage cheese.
  • Tomatoes — Both Sophia and Julia like to eat fresh cherry tomatoes or other sweet tasting tomatoes.
  • Grapes – I stress like crazy about choking and try to slice them for Sophia, but my girls love to eat grapes. In Italy, I tried to not panic as Sophia regularly walked up to the grapes vines picked herself some grapes, walked over to the fountain, washed them herself and ate them whole — seeds and all!

But I’m wondering what other ideas you have to help get picky-eaters eating?

~Susan
ps. You can watch one of my live action Mommy Confessions about dinner-time here.

pps. You’re getting our feed, right?

ppps. Let’s tweet — catch me @5minutesformom and @susancarraretto.



Email Author    |    Website About Susan

Susan Carraretto and her identical twin, Janice Croze, created 5 Minutes for Mom in 2006. Susan loves all social media, but her top addiction these days is Pinterest. She recently published a children's book titled "The Pest Detectives" which you can download now in digital format for free.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Liz December 7, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Hi Susan,

Dealing with picky eaters is such a struggle! That’s why I started my blog out of total frustration with my picky 2 yr. old.

Here are some of my favorite tips:
-Letting my daughter help with making her dinner. Everything from picking out the veggies at the market to helping me cook them.

-Talking about the vegetable, how it feels, what it looks like, how it smells, etc. seems to help her get more excited about eating it.

-Experimenting with different cooking techniques. My daughter doesn’t like steamed broccoli, but looooves it roasted a la “crispy broccoli.”

-We make “chips” out of many different vegetables (mostly root ones) by roasting them with a little olive oil& salt. Brussels sprouts (peel off the leaves to get “green chips”), thinly sliced sweet potatoes, zucchini, turnips, rootabega.

-You can put steamed or roasted butternut squash, sweet potato or pumpkin in pancakes, French toast, oatmeal, muffins

-Believe it or not, but books and TV shows seem to have an impact on her eating. (i.e. Lenny on the “Wonder Pets” likes celery, so my daughter decided she wanted to try it. Now she loves it with peanut butter on it, of course)

-Put veggies in a smoothie or in homemade juice. It’s amazing how berries mask the taste of spinach!

-Mini foods are really fun for kids. Like making mini pizzas on whole wheat pita bread or mini frittatas. Let them help!

-Offering a cool sticker for trying a new food.

-Lastly, check out http://www.muffintinmom.com. A fun &creative way to get picky eaters excited about eating. She fills a muffin tin with different themed foods. This worked like a charm for us.

Good luck & hang in there! My girl is now almost 4 and eats a wide variety of healthy foods and is much less picky than she used to be.

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2 Stacie December 7, 2009 at 7:31 pm

I have a very picky eater here. He won’t even touch meat anymore except chicken nuggets or taco meat. I make ahead meals that he likes and I freeze them. For example he loves spaghetti and garlic bread so I make it up and freeze small containers for when he wants to eat it. I try to get him to take one bite if he don’t like it he can have something else. It’s a constant battle in my house.

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3 Kara December 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm

I may be a bit of a mean mommy, but I don’t allow my kids to have much choice over what they eat. For breakfast they get cereal (or they can choose oatmeal if we have it) and they can choose which cereal. Lunch I give them a choice of 2-3 things and the majority vote is what I make and that’s what they eat or they go hungry. For dinner I serve them the same stuff we eat and if they don’t eat it then, again, too bad. They know if they don’t eat what they are given, they have to wait until the next meal or snack, I won’t make them a separate meal. Luckily I make fairly simple meals that they usually will eat, and they love most vegetables, pasta, and bread. My 3yr old won’t eat most meats (he has a sensitive gag reflex and they make him gag), but there’s always things I serve with it, like pasta and veggies, that he will eat.

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4 Christieo December 7, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Goodness, I’m torn between your post and the commenter right above me! I have always been of the mind to not make a separate meal. And I had this very struggle tonight myself! Because when it was dinnertime, my two-year-old walked over to the table, took one look at his dish (chicken with yellow rice and peas) and said, “NO!” and walked away. Now I made him sit at the table but I didn’t make him eat, I make sure he knows that we all sit down together as a family and normally I won’t make him finish his food, but I won’t make him something new either. Well of course my husband came home and asked him if he wanted peanut butter and jelly and of course, he did, and he gobbled it up.

So what to do! I feel the same stress building when it’s time to cook dinner. I really like the first commenter’s ideas, I might have to try them. And your list looks a lot like mine for what my two-year-old will eat! My three-year-old will eat pretty much whatever I give him so he’s not normally an issue. Sorry for longest comment ever. I’ll be interested in what the other commenters say, that’s for sure!

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5 Sarah December 7, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Liz, above has some great ideas, which I also incorporate. (picking out food at grocery store, having them help cook, calling veggies “kid-friendly” names, watch TV shows that encourage eating- that one really works!!).

Also, one thing we have decided as parents is that we have our kids take one bite of whatever is served. (I rarely make “acquired taste” foods, and if it’s the main course for some reason, then I do indulge the kids with mac n cheese or something like that for the side). Anyways, one bite… If they don’t like it, or don’t want to eat anymore, that’s fine. Just one bite. Usually they then want more. Sometimes they don’t. I just feel that trying to force them to eat is not a healthy behavior, and I want them to want to try new things. Eating/Getting your kids really is tricky.

However, I do sympathize with you for your daughter who has an aversion to food in general. That would be hard!! I guess if she were my child, I’d probably start with breakfast, and give her the option to eat or not. If she didn’t eat, let her know she can’t eat until you serve the next snack/meal, and don’t give in 15 or so minutes later when she says she’s hungry. She WILL get hungry sometime during that day! ;) And, eventually, she’ll understand that she has to eat when food is served. That sounds kind of harsh. I hope you don’t take that the wrong way. :/ I just know that with things like this, kids are really quick to catch on, and we mommies are the ones who have such a hard time laying down the law.

Aww! I hope that you figure it out!! Good luck, whatever you decide to do.

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6 2 Toddlers and Me December 7, 2009 at 10:17 pm

I wrote a post not too long ago about the same thing. My daughter went through a picky stage at about 2 1/2 – 3. Now that she is 4, she will try anything, but definitely has her favorites. My son, who will be 3 soon, is incredibly picky. I have a rule that there is no complaining about the meal. If you don’t like what you are served you don’t have to eat it, but you have to sit at the table until the rest of us are done. Logan has gone to bed a couple of nights with no dinner, because he’s stubbornly decided not to try something new. I don’t like it, but I don’t like feeding him frozen waffles, mac & cheese, and breakfast bars at every meal – which is what he would live on if it were his choice.

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7 Nyky December 7, 2009 at 10:23 pm

I use the Sneaky Chef book, which is similar in theory to Jessica Seinfeld’s book with my kids. I try to hide veggies in as much as possible for them…and they seem to like it. Both my son (and my husband) have texture issues with food…and I have learned to live with it in ways. My son, has recently discovered he “likes” any food with Sponge Bob on it. I don’t even let him watch the program…and he will eat it. Maybe try that marketing ploy with a character your girls like. Good luck friend!

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8 Lorraine December 7, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Glad to know that my household is not the only one that goes through this. I thought I was a crazy banana Mom b/c of all the tricks I have to use to get toddler girl to eat.

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9 Kelli December 8, 2009 at 9:44 am

OK, here’s what we do. I make a meal, I expect the kids to eat it. If they don’t, they go hungry. Kids, like animals, have a natural survival instinct. They will not starve, they will eventually eat. :-)

Thomas, my 3 year old isn’t crazy about certain textures (rice, hamburger meat, etc) but he is pretty easy to satisfy. I just be sure when I cook supper to make rolls or biscuits and veggies that I know he will eat. He might not get enough protein at dinner, but he gets eggs for breakfast or peanut butter for lunch. He gets it and I don’t stress.

My kids do not own me, I own them. Maybe that sounds harsh, but honestly… they have to be taught to eat what is put in front of them… even if it is to just be polite! I would be totally mortified if we went to someone else’s house and my kid refused to eat because they “didn’t like it”!

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10 Maryann December 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

As a dietitian and mom, I have found that what works best is also the hardest. I follow the Ellyn Satter (feeding expert) Division of Responsibility — Parents decide the “what”, “when” and “where” of eating and kids decide the “whether” and “how much.” I mix foods my 3-year old likes with foods she won’t eat — and I leave it up to her to eat it. Studies show repeated exposure and role modeling help chidlren to eat more. So when you can, eat meals with your kids. Studies also show kids eat less when pressured to do so and more when they are overly restricted. Remember, this is just a stage and they will grow out of it. On my blog, http://www.RaiseHealthyEaters.com I have many articles on helping picky eaters.
http://www.raisehealthyeaters.com/category/feeding-strategies/problem-eaters/

Maryann

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11 Lisa December 8, 2009 at 10:03 pm

I feel for you:) I have a very picky 4 year old.
She loves meat (unless there is the teensiest bit of dark brown on it)but she will not eat any vegetable other than corn. Her favourite meals contain potato, rice or pasta so to keep things simple and make me feel like she’s getting her veggies I always keep some pureed squash, sweet potato and carrot in the freezer along with a couple of baby food jars of the “green” vegetables. I add some puree to her pasta sauce and I can also camouflage the orange purees in her ketchup. I mix a little in a small dish with the ketchup and she thinks it’s fun because she can dip her meat or potato in it. I also mix some puree in her scrambled eggs and she doesn’t even notice. I keep a bag of frozen corn on hand for the times when I can’t camouflage.
It’s probably a “soft” approach but everybody’s happy and who needs a big scene at the end of the day when everyone is already tired? It allows us to have a peaceful dinnertime and enjoy each others company. There are bigger battles to worry about around here…like bedtime:)

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12 Stephanie December 8, 2009 at 11:18 pm

My 3-year-old loves cherry and grape tomatoes too. I guess there’s just something about the fact that they’re bite-sized and sweet. :)

Both my girls also love peas. We just ate those tonight, in fact.

I find the best success with bite-size items that the girls can feed themselves. Oh, and DIPS. They love dips. Yogurt. Ranch dressing. Ketchup. Etc.

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13 Dr Mom Online December 9, 2009 at 7:41 am

I incorporate many of the same ideas and strategies as Liz: have the kids help in the growing/shopping/preparation, make vegetable juices and smoothies with lots of nutrient-rich ingredients, change up the preparation methods (e.g. raw, steamed, roasted, etc.).

We also talk about the health benefits of the different foods we’re eating. This is very important to me – to raise kids who understand that food is “fueling up” not for “filling up”!

Having them involved in the menu planning seems to help a lot, too. I don’t (usually) have to deal with that turned up nose at dinner anymore b/c it was on the calendar… they knew it was coming! They tell me what their favorite meals are, and we fit them in the schedule at some point every week or two. They know it’s gotta’ be health-building in some way in order to make it on the menu!

Finally, we actually DID make a physical menu with all the healthy things they like. (“Dr. Mom’s Healthy School Days Menu”) They do get to choose from the menu for their breakfasts, lunches and snacks (with enough advanced warning to make sure the chef has all the ingredients!). I even included some nutrition tips and lessons in the menu for them to learn as they go. Works really well for us!

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14 Heather December 9, 2009 at 10:10 am

One of the easiest ways is to get them in the kitchen with you and let them help! Make a game out of you chopping veggies and not being happy that they’re stealing them, when deep down inside you’re ecstatic they’re devouring 2 servings of veggies BEFORE dinner. At least, that’s what I did.

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15 Dawn Carey December 10, 2009 at 8:14 pm

I have an independent girl also, second child. She LOVES to cook, she is three but for about 9 months or more she has helped me measure, pour and stir. It is a guarantee that she will at least try what she has made. The other thing I let her do is help out with her own food – buttering her veggies, bread. Salt and pepper on fresh vegetables. I don’t know if she actually likes how pepper tastes, but she loves the grinder.

The other thing we did was eliminate any drinks except for milk and water. They can have juice in the morning and that is pretty much it. Amazing how when she isn’t drinking her calories she gets much hungrier. Koolaid, juice, chocolate milk, hot cocoa – those are all treats that she can have instead of a snack but no longer with meals.

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16 Megret December 13, 2009 at 10:18 pm

My kids will eat almost anything (a little) better if I serve it with toothpicks or bento picks. Don’t know why — the novelty, I guess — but it works!

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