Welcome back! Last post I talked a little about how we introduced my little minions to food when they were babies – in the hopes that I’d raise them to be as adventurous of an eater as I am. Baby Led Feeding worked like a charm in my house – my babies wanted to try pretty much any food they could get their chubby little fingers around. How could I keep them from turning into picky toddlers?
Encouraging adventurous eating with toddlers and preschoolers
I try to cook dinner most nights of the week and do my best to include a variety of foods throughout the week – chicken one night, maybe fish one night, salad one night, beef or pork one night, etc. Every dinner comes with a side of fruit for the kids – so even if they don’t like what I made for dinner, I know they will eat at least *something* and not go to bed with an empty belly. They choose whatever fruit they want – grapes, orange slices, a banana, or whatever happens to be in the house. Then they get whatever the adults are eating, just in a smaller portion.
As the kids got old enough to start asking for treats/dessert after dinner, we created a couple of rules – if you tried everything on your plate at least once, you could have a small treat like a Hershey’s Kiss or a couple of M&Ms. If you ate all of your dinner, you could have a bigger treat, like a cookie or small bowl of ice cream.
The idea of the “trying treat” worked wonderfully. They tried things they didn’t think they would like, even though they may have made a stink face while doing so. It often led to several additional bites or requests for more.
But our success frankly ended there. We were constantly negotiating with the kids to eat more, them whining and asking how much more they had to eat to get a big treat, complaining that we gave them too much on their plate, and on and on and on. I loathed dinnertime. We were all constantly fighting about food. And we were miserable.
In the Baby Led Weaning book, they address how to carry the methodology throughout childhood, and this issue exactly. Their solution? A small treat given to the child with their dinner. You read that right, WITH dinner. I immediately wrote this off as absurd – I just knew my kid would be the one to eat their chocolate first, announce they were done, and ask to be excused.
But a few months ago I was at my wits’ end with the constant dinner negotiations. Sure my kids tried their food, but then everything became about what they “had” to eat. I didn’t want my kids to have that kind of relationship with food – I wanted them to learn to eat to satisfaction, not overeat, or feel like they were obligated to eat certain things or certain amounts of things. So I threw caution to the wind and tried what Baby Led Weaning suggested. They got a very small treat next to their plate at the beginning of dinner – a chocolate, a couple of gummy bears, a small cookie. They could eat it whenever they wanted. We kept the rule about needing to at least try everything on your plate before you could be excused. So I knew at minimum, they would eat their treat, probably their fruit, and at least one bite of anything else. And I was ok with that – my kids are eaters. They eat when they are hungry, they eat foods they like. I had to trust them to do that here.
I cannot say this loud enough – this has completely changed dinnertime in our house. Sure, we still have to tell them to sit still, to not bang their fork, to stop singing and eat, blah blah blah. They are still only two and five years old after all. But there is zero fighting about food.
I still sometimes hear “I don’t like that” as soon as their food is in front of them. And I respond with “Well if you don’t like it after you try it, you don’t have to eat any more.” And that’s the end of the discussion. It’s amazing. They try each thing, eat as much or as little as they want, swig down some milk, and ask to be excused. No more negotiations – there’s nothing left to negotiate.
Some nights we surprise them with an extra treat like a bowl of ice cream after everyone is done with dinner. But it’s just that – an extra treat that everyone gets, regardless of how much (or little) each person ate for dinner.
Like I said before, I’m hardly a parenting expert. I don’t have all the answers, I rarely even have some of the answers. And my kiddos are still pretty young, so I know I’m hardly out of the woods in the world of picky eating. To all my fellow parents – godspeed. If you’ve found yourself with a picky eater or two, I hope my experience might help you. And if it doesn’t, I hope you find something that works soon. Don’t be afraid to try out different ideas and also be patient. And don’t be too hard on yourself – I promise, all kids do eventually eat.
Get your kids in the kitchen with you, and don’t be afraid to have a little fun. Good luck!