Everything? Yes, everything.
Growing up, I had the option of asking my poor mother to cook anything my heart desired. And because she wanted to make us happy, she usually cooked something she knew we would eat anyways.
But now, in my home, my four year old eats everything I do. It has never been an option, in our house, to throw a fit and not eat what is served to you. At a very young age, we taught him that if he wanted to eat dinner that he would eat with us.
By all means, I’m not saying we had it all figured out, we hit the stage of picky eating, but we pushed right through it. I can’t tell you the amount of carrots he held in his mouth. He’d take one bite, decide he hated the texture and hold it in his mouth. But here was the difference, we told him he had to eat it then we walked away and pretended to “not pay attention”.
(Here’s where the safety-crazed parents come out. How could you? What if he choked? What if he didn’t like it? What if you scared him for LIFE?!
Well, I’ll tell you one thing, he’s four now and he eats everything I do. Even those damn carrots. He munches them down. And also, we never walked away far enough that we weren’t able to keep an eye on him. Duh. (We aren’t that dumb.)
Our biggest struggle now, is getting him to eat his food in a timely manner. One night, just as an experiment, we let him eat by himself and didn’t encourage, beg or plead him to eat his food quickly. Two hours later, yes, you heard me correctly, TWO HOURS LATER, he was finally finished. By then, he was tired of eating and I’m sure his legs were asleep. Another night, we brought home dinner and within FIVE MINUTES he had eaten every last piece.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, every day is different, sure, that IS true. But expectations do not have to be different. Either way, we’ve made some serious progress and I’m about to give you a peak at the steps we took.
Here are 5 steps we take in order to ensure success at meal time:
1. Clear and Realistic Expectations
We don’t hand him a pile of food and expect him to eat it all within seconds. If anything, most nights, I’ll give him a good portion and leave the rest on the stove until he’s finished with what is in front of him. If he’s still hungry, he will ask for more.
2. Portions and Variety
No, do not serve your child a 4-course meal, however, you will see more success when they have more than one type of food on their plate. Sometimes we will use cups of applesauce as a reward if he eats all of his “main dish” first.
3. Try It Once Rule
This rule has been extremely beneficial in our house. You HAVE to try everything at least once. We have used this so many times, through fits and fights of course at the beginning, that when we ask our son to please try it once before dismissing it, we no longer have the crying fits. He just tries it, we give him a drink to wash it down if he doesn’t like it and then thank him for being brave and trying something new! This is how he’s come to love some interesting items like olives, grapefruit and ranch sauce.
4. Set An Alarm with a Reward
Sometimes the best meals start with our son understanding how long he has to eat and knowing that he will get a “special reward” for eating all of his food and eating quickly. Special rewards could mean, extra play time, a cup of applesauce, some fruit snacks or even his choice of movie for the night. We’ve had to use this tactic and then pull it back, over and over again. Once he began to understand that he wasn’t enjoying eating slowly and therefore not receiving his “special reward” his behavior changed. For a few weeks, it was like there was a brand new kid in our house. We slowly weened him off of special rewards since he knew that it was now expected behavior of him.
5. There is No One Fix
Nothing you do will ALWAYS work everyday, all the time, at any moment. Somedays are just going to be a draw, and that’s okay. You’re not a bad mom because you let them eat longer than was really necessary or you gave them an amount of time and then dismissed them without all of their food being gone, it’s okay. It’s a process and you just have to keep pushing through and trying out what works for your children.
I hope this has brought some ideas to mind on how you can use these tips, tricks and steps to enhance your meal time results with the picky eater in your house!