Thursday, January 10, 2013

Candid Answers: How to Handle Picky Eaters

Elisabeth asked:

Do you make Miss Lili eat what you fix for supper? I'm having a terrible time with Abigail eating "our" food. I always offer her what we eat and if she is still attempting to throw it in the floor when we are all done, I let her down. When she gets hungry and wants to eat later, I offer her the same thing. If she refuses it again, which she usually does, I break down and fix her something she will like. I hope it is just a phase but if it is, it's turning into a loooong one!
Short answer: yes. Miss Lili eats what we eat. I am not a short order cook and toddlers don't get to choose the menu for the family.

If you want more than that, read on:

*Here are two books that helped formulate our kid food philosophy in this house:Child of Mine and
Secrets of Feeding A Healthy Family.
Both are by Ellyn Satter. I can't remember which one I read first but the general idea is this: the parent decides what and when to eat, the child decides whether and how much. We don't do everything the way she describes, but the concepts did help me get a handle on whether I should make a child eat or not.

*We sit down to eat together almost all 3 meals every day. I know most families can't do that but I'm thankful we can.We always eat supper together as a family, at the table, with no other distractions.

*I never did the baby food thing. I made my own from food that we ate. The only exception: those ridiculously over-priced "Puffs". My kids thought these were the best thing ever when they were around 9 months old - 1 year. I didn't always buy them but if we happened to have some, we had a happy infant. (And they helped us get through church services, Children's Theatre, and long car rides.)

*Our kids drink whole, full fat, Vitamin D milk. (Actually, that's what Philip and I use too, although we rarely drink it on its own. It's what we put on our cereal, in our coffee and to make hot chocolate.) And they drink water. Lots of water. (Ditto for the grown-ups of the house). Once Miss Lili has hit the limit on how much milk I'll give her in a day, she's on water like the rest of us. She actually asks for water when she's thirsty. (Although she's learned when she's at a grandparent's house she can usually get something more exciting.)

*Juice (even 100% juice) is a rare treat. (I'm the exception here. I generally have a glass of OJ every morning.) Coke (pop, soda, whatever) is an even rarer treat. They might have a Sprite about once a month.(At a restaurant or church dinner, for instance.) We made Coke (or Root Beer) floats last year for our girls for the first time and they thought it was the best treat ever. We make "Birthday Punch" every birthday and that has Ginger Ale in it. The only other time they get Sprite or Ginger Ale is when they're sick.

*Dessert: our kids have a (usually small) piece of candy after lunch and after supper. (I know some of you are shocked an appalled by that, but I'm being candid and truthful here). It is not a bribe, it's just the way it is and even Miss Lili knows it: eat your lunch and have a Hershey's Kiss. Don't eat your lunch: no Hershey's Kiss. We all have sweet teeth around here (Sweet Tooths?) so dessert in the form of some candy is a regular thing. Cookies, Brownies, Cakes, pies, ice cream, etc.: we enjoy those too but less often. We want our children to have a healthy relationship with food so we don't talk about certain foods as being bad, exactly, just that we need to have a balance. And if we have something for supper that's a little on the sweeter side (pancakes or French Toast, for example) we do not have candy afterwards. The children have protested this rule but that's how it stands for now. This is kind of unrelated but I'll throw it in here anyway: I do not talk about myself as overweight (definitely never the "I'm so fat" thing) or needing to lose a few pounds. I have four little girls coming behind me and I want them to enjoy food, live relatively healthy lives, and not worry so much about a number on a scale.

*We try lots of different foods. When we do this, everyone gives it a try. Tigger reminds us that taste buds change (a fact she read in her Clubhouse Jr magazine) so even if we didn't like it last time, we should try it again. Some things my girls have started to like just in the past few months: banana peppers, olives (Miss Lili loves 'em), asparagus, and clam sauce. Philip loves to cook, I enjoy cooking, and we frequently try a new recipe or type of food.

*No one is allowed to say things like, "Yuck." "This is gross." "Why did you make this terrible stuff?" We've always stressed to our older children that saying things like that is 1)rude and 2)younger siblings will copy that rudeness without knowing what they're saying. So don't do it. Saying something like that will get you excused from the table and not invited back until the next meal.

*What we are allowed to say: "Well, that wasn't a favorite." "I think I liked chicken {fixed some other way} better. "This was good." "Next time let's try..." (Philip and I are always discussing how to make a recipe better.) "I love this, Mom!" "You should make this all the time. This is my favorite." "This is my new second favorite." (And yes, those are actual quotes from different children at different times.)

*Miss Lili is not our pickiest eater. That award goes to Polly (and she would not mind me telling you that, which is why I'm telling you).

*Each child gets a free pass on a food. Polly can't stand mushrooms, even though the rest of us love them. So she gives her mushrooms to her sisters. It does not mean we stop cooking with mushrooms. She is the one who adapts, not us.

*This is fair because there are foods that Philip and I do not like and we, therefore, do not ever buy or fix them. There are very few things I won't eat but Lima Beans are one of them. Philip is slightly pickier than I am (and Lima Beans are on his "NEVER, EVER" list too) but he's a lot better than he used to be. Neither of us is what most people would consider a picky eater. Picky Eater Parents are going to have a harder time with Picky Eater Children because of the hypocrisy factor. ("Eat this even though Mommy isn't" doesn't fly well)

*We give small portions of things we're not sure about (whether the child will like it or not) and larger portions on favorites. There's always something: rice, piece of bread, a favorite vegetable...

*Some kids have a texture issue. (This was part of Polly's problem when she was younger.) Cut things up well, especially meat. No one wants to sit and chew, chew, chew, chew...much less a kid.

*Remember kids go through times when they're not eating as much and times when they seem to be starving all the time. Adapt to these times as necessary.

*Don't underestimate the power of not serving a child a certain food for awhile. Philip and I laugh because I used to buy grapefruit (which I love) and eat them myself. "This is a grown-up food, you probably wouldn't like it," was pretty much what we'd say when I ate it. Guess who couldn't wait to eat grapefruit and profess to LOVE IT SO MUCH now that I've decided to share? If you guessed all of my girls, you guessed correctly.

*It's OK to do fun things with food. PB&J cut with cookie cutters are fun. Filling a muffin tray with different foods is fun. Making pancake shapes is fun. Making a smiley face with raisins in a bowl of oatmeal is fun. Dips are fun (doesn't every kid love to dip?). Silly straws are fun, even if you're drinking water. Fruit kebabs are fun. Toppings are fun (for instance: baked potatoes with different types of toppings. My kids can make a loaded potato like nobody's business). A picnic (whether inside or outside) is fun. Letting Miss Lili sit at her little table with her dolls was fun.

*I do not serve a lunch again at supper time if the child didn't eat it at lunch. Supper is a new opportunity. Breakfast in the morning is a new opportunity. No one will starve between lunch and supper or supper and breakfast. They may eat more at the next meal and that's OK. It doesn't mean they were starving, just that they had a chance to get actually hungry. If a child really balks and will not eat what we're eating (and this hasn't happened at our house in a long time) we would sometimes offer a piece of bread & butter or some raw veggies. Not hungry enough for plain bread & butter or plain baby carrots = not hungry.

*Remember we're aiming for balance over days or a week, not over every meal. Some meals are healthier than others. Some meals are preferred over others. Everyone has favorites and "not-favorites". We all get into food ruts every now and then: cooking the same things over and over. So break out! Try a new recipe. Fix something a little different. Get a new cookbook at the library. There's more to kid friendly food than Mac & Cheese and Chicken Nuggets.

*Two and Three year olds are not the most reasonable human beings. I'm guessing everyone knows this. And the good news is: it's probably just a phase. The bad news is: as always, another phase will start when this one ends. That's part of the fun of parenting, right?

Hope this helps, Elisabeth! Anyone else have advice to share? Something I missed? Comment away.


MacKenzie said...

That's pretty much what we do and so far it's working - she isn't picky unless she is being two-ish and stubborn. If she is being stubborn about trying something, we enforce the 2 bites for two year olds (at which point she reminds us that Jonah doesn't have to eat any because he is zero years old). The only consistent thing she doesn't like is crusts but I hated crusts as a child and I turned out alright so I allow her that - especially since she saves them in a little pile to give to her dad).

And I'm glad to hear you eat candy. We eat mostly homemade healthy food so I've decided to not even worry about desserts anymore, we like to make them and we like to eat them and that's okay.

Elisabeth said...

Great post and it definitely helped! I actually had forgot that I even asked you that. I always love reading what other moms are doing because I know I don't always have the best ideas. My favorite sentence: "...the parent decides what and when to eat and the child decides whether and how much."
My kids are allowed one cup of juice a day, 2 cups of milk and the rest of the time it is water. Pop is a treat as well. I think the best part of the kids' day is coming home from school and getting a piece or two of candy. They all like that! Fruit is available at all times as Ryan is stuck in the starving all the time phase. You will understand when that boy of yours is a few years old! =) If he says he is hungry but doesn't want an apple, he isn't that hungry.
Abigail is still a work in progress but I'm sure we'll get there!

Toni said...

Great Blog! I printed this one out too. My future daughter will either be thankful for the ones I've been saving for her, or she will think I'm being a meddling M-I-L. I just wish I could have had someone like you giving me advise when I was raising mine. I'd have liked another shot at teaching Allen how to eat :)

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