When You Have a Picky Eater

picky eater

Who here has a picky eater? Oh I feel for you! I’ve had several different picky eaters at one time or another and let me tell you – I know there’re times you just want to hold you kiddo down and force feed them. I know you want to (maybe a little) let them go hungry if they won’t eat the food you prepared (especially if you’re like me and dislike cooking, but still made them food, only for them to refuse to try it because they already know they don’t like it!)

But I digress. Where were we? Oh yeah, picky eaters and what to do with them without losing your sanity or your cool and also getting them to eat.

All you want is for your child to at least try the foods you make, and hopefully even eat more than one bite every meal. The dream of having happy dinner time and children that eat all their supper is possible!

The first step is very simple. Figure out what they do eat. Maybe it’s only rice or potatoes. Maybe they only eat blueberries that were picked in the moonlight from a fen facing east. Whatever they eat, figure it out.

Once you know what they eat, feed them that. Don’t offer anything else. Yes, have other foods available, but do not offer. And whatever you do don’t insist they ‘try just one bite’ of anything other than a professed good food.

Trust is Earned

Okay, I know you know trust has to be earned – but hear me out! Right now your kiddo needs to know they can trust you – and this is a fast way to earn that trust around food. You’ll move toward shifting their pickiness later. For at least a week (maybe longer) only place food in front of them that you know they’ll eat. Absolutely let everyone else have what they want, and if the picky eater tries something new do NOT mention it!! Praising the bite will backfire big time in most kiddos! And many parents are more likely to accidentally be snarky and say something really mean. So just don’t mention it. It’s safer that way.

Once you see your kiddo relaxing at meals and meal times are a happy experience again, then you can move onto step two.

Discover WHY They’re Picky

There are three main reasons why a child is a picky eater.

  1. Control. This one is a huge reason why many older children are picky eaters. Washing, toileting, eating, and sleeping are the four main ways a child can control their life. They’ll use those to take control when the rest of their life feels out of control to them.
  2. Textures and Tastes! Textures and tastes can be a huge issue for some kiddos and if that kiddo experienced one too many textures or flavours they couldn’t handle, then they’ll become super picky and refuse anything that even remotely resembles the previous negative experience.
  3. Sensitivities. If a child is reacting to foods, especially if they don’t know which ones, then all foods will be suspect. They’ll eat the ones that hurt the least. But if you accidentally add a reactive food to that safe dish, then they’ll shy away from that also. Their window of foods they’ll try will become more and more narrow all the time.
lady pouring tea, fruit and flowers on table

Solving the Problems

Control

Solving these problems can be very multi-faceted depending on the child and the family dynamic. But a few things can make a huge difference.

If a child feels out of control, then offering as much control as possible makes a huge difference. Unfortunately along with feeling out of control they often feel unloved and unlovable. So not only do you need to help them exert their own control over their life, you also need to help them see your love and feel your love.

This can feel very sad, angry, or overwhelmed. After all, I believe most parents truly love their children and do as much as humanly possible to show that love. A lack of love is not the problem. The problem usually lies in how the love is shown and how the love is received. Some children really just don’t notice that your spending hours helping them get their homework done is you showing love. I hope that makes sense!

Textures and Tastes

Dealign with textures and tastes is easiest if you or your kiddo can figure out what textures are the problem. Remove the offending textures and flavours and it’ll be a lot easier for your kiddo to eat a variety of foods. Once they’ve been eating a wider variety of foods for several months it is possible to slowly begin introducing new textures. But it needs to be done slowlyand with their knowledge.

Difference spices need to be added even slower than textures for most kiddos.

Sensitivities

If sensitivities are the issue, remove all of the offending food, including trace amounts. Work on healing the gut. This takes time. The more damage there was, the longer it takes to heal.

Be sure to talk to your child about the foods they react to. Help them learn how to identify them, especially the hidden varieties. This helps them know that you’re there for them and want to help them – it also protects them by giving them the knowledge to keep themselves safe.

Once healing has occurred and they’ve been eating their safe foods for a while you can begin introducing a variety of foods. To do this, I recommend letting you child know about the new food. Let them know it doesn’t have their sensitivity in it, show them the label, give them as much knowledge and power as possible. This also let’s them know you’re on their side and doing everything you can to protect them.

table filled with cheese, fruits, dried fruit, mulled cider, s'mores and more

Setbacks Happen

Setbacks will happen. You’ll get upset about something not even remotely related to food, and suddenly your kiddo won’t eat anymore. Or you’ll offer an amazing tiramisu for dessert and next thing you know the kid refuses supper for the next three weeks and you can’t figure out how anyone wouldn’t love such an amazing dessert, let alone how that’d translate into not eating the same grilled chicken he’s been loving for months now.

Really just keep the fancy desserts to yourself – it’s much safer that way!

And there always comes a time when you accidentally poison your child by giving them the very thing they shouldn’t have. You know you’ve read the label a dozen times, but somehow gluten snuck into that sausage and now the inside of your van is covered in puke and your kiddo won’t eat anything. <— that story has happened in one version or another to me so many times.

Picking Up the Pieces

The good news is most kiddos can understand how these things happen – most of the time you just need to apologize for it happening and ask for their forgiveness and let them know you’ll do your best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I know apologizing is really hard. So many of us grew up knowing that admitting a mistake meant a lot of shame followed. We hide mistakes, lied, and often times didn’t even show up in the first place. No trying was better than making a mistake!

But just like it’s possible for our kiddos to move on from those hard experiences of the past, so can we.

It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to be wrong. Apologizing makes you a stronger more trustworthy person. And that is exactly what you want your child to see you as! Strong enough and trustworthy.

My Experience

We’ve had kiddos who’ve been picky due to sensitivities. Our oldest was diagnosed with celiac’s disease when she was two. It took her a long time to accept different foods. But now she’ll happily eat almost everything and she wants to be a chef!

Most recently our seven year old has been having a lot of pickiness surrounding food. She’ll gobble up food one day, the next she’ll refuse and say she hates it.

I cannot even begin to describe my frustration!

But I could see the reason behind her actions. Most evenings ended with her wailing that no one loved her – despite hundreds of different ways we all showed her during the day. And many smiles and lots of laughter. But she still isn’t feeling loved.

salad in a wooden bowl

So after feeding her nothing but potatoes and cereal for weeks on end, it was time to shift things.

I’ve previously written about our Links of Love. We use these as a visual reminder of how much love our family loves each other. Most of the time these are optional for our kiddos. But Miss Cordelia wouldn’t participate the past few months. We’ve been noticing her behaviour becoming less and less regulated. We also saw her becoming more and more picky.

So we came to an agreement. For the next 14 days she needs to create three of her own Links of Love, and she needs to eat all of her supper while pretending she likes it. (We promised we wouldn’t give her a lot). At the end of the 2 weeks, I will take her out for a special Mommy Daughter date, and she will get a special toy.

This is perfect for her because she loves calendars and has one of her own. She marks days off all the time and loves counting down to events. Plus she loves buying things, and having special time with me.

This also helps her see the love we have for her because she is required to look for it each day. Plus as we share the ways we love her and see her loving others, it boosts her self esteem and mood.

The last part of the challenge is about her experience of the meal. It isn’t enough for her to sit at the table eating with a pout. She needs to pretend to like the foods. This makes a huge difference because faking it really does shift our perception of the situation.

So far the evenings have been beautiful. She’s happily eaten everything without complaint.

Sometimes we need to be creative with our solutions, but the best solutions support our children vs punish them or forcing them. The right incentive goes a long way!

Closing Thoughts

Before we go, I think it is so important to point out that this was a deal we made together. I got down to her level before I offered it, ‘Kiddo, I’d like to offer you a deal. I’d like to see you eaten more foods at dinner. But I want it to be your choice. I’d like to offer you a deal. For the next 14 days I’d like you to eat all the foods we put on your plate at dinner, I promise we won’t put a lot! While you eat them, I want you to pretend you like them. At the end of 14 days, if you’ve managed to do this, then I’ll buy you a special present and take a special outing with just the two of us. How does that sound?” After we talked about it, and agreed to it, we shook on it.

The choice is hers, the power is hers, and meals will be pleasant. For the next two weeks I will make foods I’m sure she’d like if she only tried them. I won’t serve anything I’m unsure if she’d like – this is not the time to offer octopus to the kiddo that doesn’t like different textures!

Please put a comment below! I’d love to hear what you liked most about the post!

What to do when your older child won't eat! The dream of having happy meals and children that eat all their supper is possible!



3 Comments

Love it! My daughter was incredibly picky from age 2-4. We went through some seriously challenging seasons where it was so hard to get creative. She wouldn’t touch anything that was the color green. At all. We would end up peeling zucchini and chopping it up to mix it in with whatever we were cooking. Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Gotta love the way kiddos take an idea and run with it! They’re always keeping us on our toes, aren’t they?

Reply

They definitely do!!

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