I say this all the time but it is one of my biggest pet peeves when people say to me, "My kids are so picky...all they want to eat is chicken nuggets and mac and cheese."
Truth bomb is coming...
Our kids rely on us to feed them, so who's fault is it when they only want to eat certain things? Yes, it is OUR fault when we give into our children and only feed them what they want. We need to stop only feeding them chicken nuggets and mac and cheese!
My pediatrician had the same talk with me when Philip was a baby, and he told me when kids are hungry enough, they will eat what we put in front of them.
But I totally feel your pain...dinner time can be stressful with a picky eater...I know this because I have one, but I do believe that we can take certain steps to make meal time less frustrating and to get our children eating a variety of healthy foods, and ultimately eat what we eat at family meals.
Here are my 5 tips to get your kids to eat what you eat at meal time:
1. Don't offer them anything else at dinner. Our kids are SMART...don't underestimate them (even young toddlers)! If we get into the habit of making them another meal when they refuse to eat what the family is eating, they KNOW that they will get what they want if they hold out.
I am so guilty of doing this when Philip was a baby because I thought I would starve him if he didn't have something for dinner, but after speaking with my pediatrician, he said that he won't die if he doesn't have dinner one night, he will just be extra hungry in the morning, and learn that he needs to eat what we offer him.
I also soon realized it was absolutely crazy to be making two meals at dinner time. Now with three kids, forget it, I definitely don't have time for that!
We had to ease into this transition. At first, Philip would refuse to eat it and we had to encourage him to at least put it in his mouth and taste it, and if he hated it he wouldn't have to swallow. Once he realized it wasn't so bad he started to be more adventurous with food on his own.
2. Include them in the food shopping/cooking process as much as you can.
When we are in the grocery store I talk to my kids about what I'm putting in the cart, especially when we are in the produce section. I tell them what the name of the item is and we talk about the color, shape, etc. Not only am I teaching them about healthy food when I buy it, but it also helps to distract them in the store as well which is a win win!
I also try to get my kids involved in the kitchen as much as possible. I have to say that buying them mini aprons for one of their stocking stuffers at Christmas was a pretty great idea. They absolutely LOVE to help me cook...and when I say cook, I'm not having them in the kitchen from start to finish because we wouldn't eat before 8 p.m., but I let them do one or two steps in the process so they feel accomplished that they helped me, and in doing so they are more likely to eat the food they helped to make. As they get older I will give them more to do, and then they will eventually learn how to cook as well :).
3. Limit snacks before dinner. The hour before we eat is ROUGH. "Mommy, I'm hungry. Mommy, I want a drink. Mommy I want a snack." It does not stop and I can totally understand why parents cave and give their kids something to stop the whining. Be strong and try as hard as you can to distract them and wait until your meal is ready.
However, if you are running late and it is past your normal dinner time, have some veggies readily available in the fridge that you can let them munch on. I usually just give my kids a couple of baby carrots if they are carrying on.
4. Baby led weaning is key! I know many of you are out of the baby stage, but if you have a baby who you are just starting to introduce to food I would highly recommend trying baby led weaning.
With baby number one I steamed and pureed everything for him and spoon fed it all to him, even when he had teeth and could pick up small pieces on his own. He is now my picky child and I really believe that part of the reason why is that he didn't have experience with different textures of foods because it was all pureed.
With baby number two I fed her purees for the first month but then I started to steam everything so it was really soft and gave it to her whole. The food was soft enough where I knew she wouldn't choke (even though she only had 2 teeth at the time), and she was eating everything I put in front of her. She is my great eater and still going strong at two and a half.
5. Be persistent. It takes several attempts to get your kids to try and like different foods...especially vegetables, so be patient and keep offering it to them! Obviously there may be a food that they just really hate (we all have that) and that's okay. If my kids try something and truly hate it, I keep that in mind for future meals.
It's a two way street...when you are a good example of a healthy balanced diet for your kids, they will learn from you and most likely incorporate it into their lifestyle when they become adults. Also, when you are feeding your kids healthy foods, you have less of an excuse to why you don't have time and have to eat "their" food.
I mean even if you do all of these things, every meal won't be a breeze...some days, dinner time still looks like this in my house...
...but I promise you it will help your kids to start eating healthier and to get away from only wanting pizza, chicken nuggets or french fries :).
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