Eating wars in my house, I always won and still do win (even with my hubby, who hates tomatoes and peas). I saw enough picky eaters that I was determined that I would not raise a picky eater. We are fortunate enough to have a pediatrician who is all about the individual development of a child. She suggested that once the kids could sit up and started to be interested in what I was eating then I could start to introduce solid foods. Consequently I started each child before they were 6 months old (see link below). I introduced new foods to the kiddos all the time. When they were almost a year they were eating plain yogurt and liking it. Now I have to make my own yogurt to keep the cost of consumption down. At meal times the kids almost always ate with us. Even when they were babies on pureed food, I fed them while we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yes, this meant that it took longer for me to eat but then they saw what I was eating and became curious and wanted to try. There was a time when my daughter was 9 months old that she survived on cheese, applesauce, bananas, and plain yogurt. I allowed it for a while and then started to mix it up.
Between 1-3 years of age they had a version of what we were eating. For example if I was making Chicken Alfredo the kids would have the chicken and plain noodles because they didn’t like the sauce. My mom helped by showing us that food could be fun. She would always make broccoli with the stems still on and they were trees that we giants could eat. My son would not eat salmon but he would eat tuna fish with crackers. When we had salmon for dinner I would cool his down in the fridge, mix it with a little mayo, and serve with crackers. He loved it and now he will eat salmon just as I make it. So make food fun or interesting.
Once the kids where about 3 or 4 and refused to eat what I put in front of them then they could just sit with the family and not eat. When they were hungry later that night, dinner would be reheated and then they could and would eat what I had fixed. My son, who is my rebellious one, actually chose to go to bed hungry on 2 occasions when he was 4. That was his choice and by time morning came he was starving. Usually bland oatmeal was on the menu. Now that they are older they know that complaints will not work. Oh they still complain on certain meals but I win, every time. My son started to take picky eating to a new level. He started to choose to not eat. That was his way of putting control back into is little hands. Not happening on my watch. He had to eat his meal and then was excused. He even fell asleep at the table a couple of times. Can we say stubborn?
When it came to meal times I never gave into making more than one meal. Fruit juice is a breakfast or lunch time drink. We have milk with dinner. If they are thirsty, even when small, then they get water. I do not have a lot of snacks in the house. If you are hungry between meals the fruit bowl sits on the counter or there are cheese sticks, carrot sticks, and celery in the fridge. Apples and peanut butter became a favorite of my daughter. My son will eat almost any veggie with ranch dressing. Having a whole carrot to yourself is the coolest thing at age 4. We have planted mini gardens and my kids know where food comes from, even meat.
Now I don’t make them eat everything. For example the kiddos do not like bell peppers and they are allowed to pick those out of stir fry after they take one bite (you never know when a bell pepper will become delicious). But they have to eat the carrots and celery in that stir fry. I make my portions small for them. I only put about a kid’s handful size of meat on their plates and 2 handfuls of veggies. By putting those small portions on a big plate it tricks them to thinking that they are eating less and many times a second helping is asked for. How would you like it if your plate came to you heaping with food and you were told that you had to eat everything! Not so much fun. When I remember I have the kids, as young as 2 with some help, fill up their own plates.
Dad is to be a good example and not complain about the meal either. I have started to make one vegetarian meal a week to help with the food budget. One night I made chili sans the beef. Everyone complained about the fact. After getting angry with them I had another idea. I just got up, took everyone’s bowl away, and put it back in the pot. I sat down and started to eat my dinner. To say the least my family was shocked. I told them that I don’t serve those who are ungrateful for what the Lord had provided. They didn’t want the dinner, they didn’t have to eat, and I will not tolerate complaints from anyone any more. The family asked for their meal back and I received many compliments on the chili even though it didn’t have meat.
I have been asked the picky eater question before. Even by moms with children much older than mine. They were amazed that I would let my child go hungry at such an early age. But my kids were the ones eating items off the potluck table while they were going out to by their kids a meal they would “eat”. This is just my opinion but in my observation it isn’t about the food as much as it is about the power struggle. The kids want to rule. They want to call the shots. When they find out that they can call the shots, then they will take those opportunities more and more often. We teach our kids to share, we don’t have to teach them to be selfish.
During our battles over meals I try, though have failed to do this many times, to teach them about being thankful for what God has provided. Allowing them to choose to go hungry teaches them that there are consequences to their decisions. By not making different meals teaches them that mom is not a short order cook at the mercy of her family’s whims. Kids learn thankfulness, respect, and consideration while sitting down to a meal. We aren’t always going to get something we like. But we should always be thankful for the food we are about to eat. We should always be respectful to the one who provided and prepared the meal. We should be considerate of the feelings of the one who so lovingly prepared the meal for you.
An example of this in my own life is meals with certain family members. I use a lot of spice. My secret ingredient in my spaghetti sauce is red wine. They on the other hand are a little timid of spice and bold flavors. At least that is how they cook. In my opinion their meals are okay, I could use more flavor. When we are invited to a meal, however, I am thankful for a dinner I didn’t have to cook. I am respectful and considerate of my hostess because I know they spent time and effort to give a good meal. These are things that my kids have had to learn and that learning starts at home with the parents, especially mom. My dad told us a story about when he had to eat an item that he hates! Dad does not like ranch dressing. There is no way that you are going to make him eat that horrible stuff! Dad and Mom were invited to a dinner with some other couples. The hostess served individual salads for a first course and all of them had ranch dressing on them. I mean what weirdo doesn’t like ranch dressing? Everyone likes ranch dressing. Well, instead of asking for a new salad with a different dressing my dad ate the whole thing. Talk about thankfulness, respect, and consideration. My brother and I were in awe that he would do such a thing. And for a while I believe we stopped all complaints at dinner time.
Even though I still get complaints from them, my kids are more adventurous to try something knew. Especially my 8-year-old. She doesn’t like every thing that she tries. That is okay but she does receive a lot of kudos for taking a risk. When we are invited to lunch or dinner they are learning to be a gracious guest. Potlucks aren’t a nightmare for me. They know that they can get what they want but a veggie and fruit have to be on the plate as well. Being a good eater isn’t just about health (that is important) but it is also about learning life lessons and building good character qualities.
* Here is a link on when to start solids. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-baby/PR00029