Ever since Annie first started to eat solid foods I’ve tried my best to make sure that she ate well. I read labels, went through a phase where I tried (in vain) to create a broccoli shake that kids would love, and even subjected myself to a stomach turning toddler food taste test. Today I’m proud to say that, as a result of my efforts, Annie’s favorite food is kale, she loves to snack on steamed white fish and vegetables, and her dessert of choice is a raw tomato.
Like a lot of toddlers, Annie often has me shaking my first at the sky and screaming, “Why are little kids such psychos when it comes to food?!”
I remember years ago watching my sister ask her son what he wanted to eat for dinner and thinking that was the wrong way to go about it. “You don’t ask them what they want to eat!” I wanted to say. “That only gives them the control! You tell them what they’re going to eat! Show ‘em who’s boss!”
Well, I now know that “showing ‘em who’s boss” is easier said than done. Too often I’ve played “boss” and made Annie a dinner of my choosing only to have her refuse to eat it. Eventually, I got tired of cooking food she wouldn’t eat and started to give her the choice between two options.
“Okay, Annie. Dinner time. Do you want chicken or spaghetti?”
“That wasn’t an option, Annie.”
“Something else please.”
Something else. Grr.
So, yeah, we’ve had a bit of food drama. Over time we settled into a small group of foods that A) Annie liked, and Heather and I approved of her eating. Despite that I really wanted Annie to branch out a bit more, and the more she ate just from that small group of food the more averse she seemed to trying other foods. This concerned me, and lead to me often saying, “Try it! Just try it! TRYYYYYYY ITTTT!”
Thankfully, I recently discovered a way to get the kid to be a bit more adventurous with her food. Annie, you see, has been going through a major “Can I do it?” phase, so when I told her I was going to make dinner one day she said, “Can I help?” In the past I’d have told her that cooking was mommy and daddy stuff, but that day I decided to let her help. Turns out that when Annie plays a role in preparing the food (even when she only does something minor like stirring) she feels ownership over the food and is much more likely to eat it. Since then Annie has eaten a number of new foods which is terrific even if she’s made a mess or two thousand. (It’s acceptable collateral damage, though).
This weekend I was living especially dangerously when I decided to make omelets, and Annie ran into the kitchen and asked, “Can I help?” That lead to this heart stopping moment:
What’s beyond awesome? Annie cracked the egg into the bowl without incident AND ate some of an omelet.
Hopefully Annie will soon grow out of her picky eating phase, but until then I don’t mind having a little sous-chef by my side (even if she is a messy one).
satchi Nitay says:
That’s great. My sister’s little boy has loved to watch what she’s cooking, in fact, he’s insisted that he watch what’s going on on the countertops. Now he’s 3 and has started making his own sandwiches (after she cooks it of course) and loves it. And yes, he’s picky with other stuff too.
I used to be extremely picky with food, but once I reached 10 or so – I would eat anything and everything in sight- which wasn’t always a good thing.
You’re a great dad!
all the best,
Satchi & Nitay
I guess we all go through that…my oldest son was a terrible eater. Finally, when I did home day care, he began to eat whatever he saw his friends eat and got better and better…still doesn’t really cook, but he does eat.
You might want to pick up a children’s cookbook. I’ve read repeatedly that kids are much more apt to try something when they cook it.
My son will help me make anything, but still won’t try whatever it is he helps make! He is a super picky eater, my husband and I were both very picky eaters when we were young so I am hoping he grows out of it like we did!
I have a 7 year old and 4 year old girls who love everything and if it smells good, will try anything. They eat like men – ribs, sushi, calamari, steak, crab legs. We never make them a separete meal and we all eat together as a family every night. They also help prepare the nightly salad. Monkey see, monkey do. And they really do LOVE to be apart of making it. Good luck!
I think some people occasionally forget something about kids. The secret is: They Won’t Starve. They won’t. They will eventually eat if they’re hungry enough.
I’ve seen a lot of parents insist on feeding the kids dinner even if it’s a junk. But don’t. I always insisted that I don’t run a 24-hour kitchen. I cook what I cook (relatively child friendly, yes) and they will eat. So the kids eat ok. 1 out of 3 is picky, one is ok, the 3rd eats just about everything.
I love good food and love to cook. I never made any “kid” food, just made dinner and we all ate together. My boys were required to have a taste of everything but could stop after a taste – but no alternate meal was available. They learned a lot – they both will eat just about anything and they both love to cook and do it well. Both have considered food careers. The downside? We had to be restaurant police because one’s idea of a nice meal was shrimp cocktail and rack of lamb, the other preferred caesar salad and a large rare steak. And they’d both eat every bite when we gave them free rein – but sometimes we were thinking nice sandwiches or salads, not a $200 tab for the four of us….The upside? The occasional celebratory meal was great fun with them – and they loved it so much they behaved perfectly.
Good for you on finding the key to getting her to try new things. I think that is half the battle. I won’t make separate meals for my 3 kids, but I do try to make things where they all can fashion an acceptable option. For example, my son loves chili but my younger daughter does not like cooked tomatoes of any sort. I still make the chili but include macaroni noodles that she can use for buttered noodles. She eats all sorts of other vegetables willingly, so this ia way to make it work for everyone once in awhile!
That a good way to get Annie to try new foods! It just take a lot of time on the part of the parent, so I hope you keep it up.
My daughter is 6 and she’s still picky but gradually getting better about it, as in she’ll try 1-2 new foods a week, but won’t necessarily like them or keep eating them. Baby steps…sometimes for years! Hang in there.
We’ve had this fight recently but I know it’s minor compared to most fights over food. Our 5 year old will eat anything until recently but with the reminder that we feed her good, tasty food she will try something new and always likes it. Growing a vegetable garden also encourages them to eat new foods. Our 2 year old is eating tomatoes straight off the plant – realizing that the red ones taste better than the green. You can grow quite a bit in large pots.
Ha, the concentration on her face in that last photo is priceless! Awesome!
Be very very very thankful that she eats the way she does, however picky it may be. Not to be the “one-upper” but my son is SOOOOOOO picky and has issues with texture and will literally make himself gag and throw up food that isn’t of his choosing. Oh its been SUCH a battle. I can almost bet that Annie’s pickyness is just a phase and probably mostly because she now has a sense that she can be somewhat in control of things now. Just keep offering over and over. I bet she’ll grow out of it in time and be a very healthy eater. I wish I had done a better job of offering my son a bigger variety when he was younger.
Kathy V. says:
Kids’ tastes can change from month to month. My 12-yr-old daughter used to love green beans and raw spinach. Now she refuses to eat either. On the other hand, she started liking tomatoes about 6 months ago and now loves them. Last week she decided avocados were ok in her taco and now requests them in her salad. She does sometimes have In-n-Out or something similar, but later will request a salad because, “I feel so unhealthy. I want some vegetables.” Lol
Have you read anything by Ellyn Satter? Full disclosure, I I am not a parent, but I really respect her work and wonder if it might be helpful. Here’s a link with a lot of free resources: http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/htf/howtofeed.php
We struggle, too, to get our 4 and 6 year old daughters to eat. It’s a constant battle made even worse this year by trying more clean eating. I miss processed food. I found this recently and it really helped my 6 year old to be more interested in trying new foods. Not so much for the 4 year old yet, but perhaps Annie will like it!
It’s a food passport-each time they try a new food listed they get to write about it and add a sticker. There is a section for them to write in their own new food, too. Luckily for you, I noticed it’s on sale!
My Lilypie is a little younger that your Annie, so I’m kinda in the same boat with foods. Her doc strongly encourages the “no thank you bite” method. Lilypie has to take one bite of each food on her plate before she can say “no thank you” to finishing it. Of course she’ll gobble down the fruit like nobody’s business, so I only put one bite of the fruit on her plate. If she wants more (which I know she does), she’ll try her “no thank you” bites, and get the fruit she wants. If she desn’t want to try the new foods (or foods that she’s had before but wasn’t too jazzed about), then that is fine. It is her choice to not try the new food, but it is also her choice to not get the fruit she wants because she’s not doing the “no thank you” bite. You’d also be amazed at how quickly broccoli will get gobbled up if it is sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
I always remember the advice I was given in our Feeding the Toddler classes:
* It is our job as parents to put a variety of foods on our kids plates – it is their job to eat it.
* It may take upwards of a dozen times having a particular food for a kid to “like” it (tolerate it) – whether it is because of taste or texture.
* If you set precedent of being a short order cook because the kids don’t like what the adults are having for dinner, you’re setting yourself up for years of being a short order cook to cater to two (or three) different meal options. (We choose to eat one meal as a family, but I always make sure that there is one thing my Lilypie will eat at the meal. If she chooses not to eat, she will be hungry at breakfast, but she will survive. It is her choice to make, and one she doesn’t make too often.)
* Even if she doesn’t eat much food during the day, that’s okay. Look at the bigger picture of how is she eating for 2 weeks? Does she have eating days and non-eating days? It’s okay. She’s growing beautifully.
* Be a good example in eating for her. Eat your fruits and veggies. Don’t transfer your food baggage to her. (We don’t use the word “yuck” at our table… even though I despise peas, I will serve them with a smile – and then sneak an extra portion of the broccoli I do like. She’s clueless to my food dislikes because I want her to form her own opinion based on her trying foods.)
Good luck. Hang in there. This too shall pass. This is a very tricky part of parenting – especially with spirited little ones. My Lilypie is as strong in her independent nature as your Annie seems to be.
We always had our kids at least take a bite. If they didn’t like it we wouldn’t make them eat it. Over time they learned to like most everything I served. Also, we also found that if they help make it, they would eat it. Great Job Mike.
Yeah, pickiness is typical with toddler and preschoolers. We have a toddler who all of a sudden decided not to eat PIZZA. Who doesn’t love pizza (aside for people with dairy/gluten allergies, not an issue here)??? Yet she has no problem eating gyoza or (veggie) sushi when we’re eating out. Go figure.
We’re not ready for the “help to cook it” phase, since she’s still impulsive enough to stick her hands in hot food (and what a fun trip to Children’s that was!), so right now our two main tricks are to (a) eat everything we serve her as well, so she realizes the food we eat is actually yummy to others; (b) not agree to alternate food unless she tries a bite of what we originally served and still refuses more. Sometimes that works well, other times it doesn’t. What we’ve realized over time is that she’s likely to be less trusting/more opinionated when she’s tired or hungry as a result of eating lightly earlier in the day.
Funnily enough, her preschool teacher says she’s a pretty good eater there, and don’t believe me when I relate tales of how picky my kid really is. So even though it’s true that they eat more easily around other kids their age, I wouldn’t bet the farm that it translates to more adventurous eating at home.
Oh, picky eaters. At one point in my Adam’s life he ate only bananas. Nothing else. Doctor wasn’t worried but I was.
Toothpicks saved this kid. Our local grocery had pork chop samples with tooth picks in them. Adam ate them like his mama eats m&ms. I cooked his pork chops like that for 2 years. Pancakes? Cut them up and throw in the toothpicks and pretty soon he was eating them like there was no tomorrow.
Invest in some fancy toothpicks. Play “restaurant” with her and it might work.
None of my kids were picky eaters. As a matter of fact, they all ate like vultures and none were/are fat. They are grown now and still love to eat. The pediatrician gave me the best advice when my first was born. He said that parents should have the Depression era attitude which was “You want to eat, eat, you don’t, more for the rest of us.” They won’t starve themselves to death, so it’s all good. Also, I’m Italian. Italians make meals an exciting celebration. The kids picked up on the enthusiastic attitude of meal time. It’s funny because my daughter is a chef in Boston now and her facebook posts sound just like me. She will post things like “I made such a beautiful chicken!” along with pictures. The doctor said food issues and weight issues in children come from even the most well meaning parents. He also said never to talk about your weight in front of your child, and never to talk aloud near your child about your child being a picky eater.
I’m Italian too, and a pretty good cook (that is, I’ve made meals for near strangers and they’ve liked them enough to say so). Still doesn’t make my kid eat everything. In fact, she’s more likely to eat Thai or French food when I prepare something than Italian (which is annoying, because I love Italian food, duh, was raised on it). You may have just lucked out.
But yes, I agree that for the most part the rule at the dinner table should be “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset”, but every once in a while we have had to bend it. My kid is super stubborn, so we do have the occasional day when we have to break out the (made from scratch, organic) mac and cheese.
Years ago (my “baby” turned 23 today) I had my son start helping me in the kitchen, probably around 3 years old. It was actually to keep him out of trouble while I was cooking dinner. He started with putting foil on the pan, getting out a spoon for me, putting rolls on a tray. Little things that he could claim he helped with dinner. Then of course he loved eating what he “cooked”. As he grew this time was an opportunity for us to visit and talk about our days while cooking dinner. Now, I’m proud to say he’s a good cook and still helps and talking about our days is a huge bonus. Enjoy that kitchen time!
Another thing you can try is letting her serve herself! That’s what they do in at my daughters preschool…even let them pour their own drinks from tiny pitchers!! This also gives them control over how much is in front of them! You can also introduce a new food in a fun way by hiding it in a bag or doing a blind fold taste test! There isn’t always time for these things but you are definitely on the right track with getting her to help make it!!!
In the past few months I’ve gotten veggies into my very picky six year old by making smoothies. Things like bananas and mango are naturally very sweet so I use those as the base and then add veggies like kale, cucumbers, broccoli, etc. She won’t eat berries because of the seeds, but strawberries are also a good sweet base. I also add vanilla protein powder sometimes to sweeten it a bit. I tell her exactly what is in it, so I’m not hiding the veggies.
Great way to get her to eat new foods! Our boys will eat any vegetable if it came from our garden. Canned corn – no way! Tell them this is the corn that they helped grow and there isn’t any left
Expat Mom says:
My picky eaters never ate what they made. BUT, we found that we could get them to taste stuff if we didn’t ask them to put it in their mouths. We’d ask them to stick out their tongues and we’d touch the food to their tongue. Half the time they were surprised that they liked it and asked for more!
My kids are 13 and 18 now, and I have never stopped being grateful for how lucky I was in food matters. I lucked into two kids who were born to be foodies. I never had a single food battle, which is fortunate, because I wouldn’t have had the slightest idea how to deal with it. I decided beforehand that I wouldn’t force my kids to eat anything, but would insist that they try just one bite of everything, but never had to put that to the test. Do your best, Mike, it will all work out. I don’t know a single adult who won’t eat anything but chicken nuggets and macaroni, so it seems most kids branch out eventually. Good idea having Annie help with preparation–even if it doesn’t make her less picky now, being involved in family meals can only be a good thing.