Many parents work hard to ensure their children are happy, strong, and healthy. Even with good intentions and hard work every parent struggles at some point. One of my biggest struggles with my eldest son, who is now 13, has been with his picky eating.
His picky eating started at the early age of 2. It seemed like from one day to the next he went from annihilating everything I put in front of him to refusing to eat anything except for his “favorites”, like chicken nuggets, pb&j sandwiches, cereal, Mac and cheese, and french fries. The list of what he would eat was disturbingly small, consisted of the items he got rarely or as treats before, and most of the foods were not healthy especially when eaten as your main source of nourishment! If I put anything else in front of him he would refuse to eat it or force himself to throw up when I pushed for him to eat it (trust me, that was both surprising and upsetting…I hope you never experience it!).
Being a new mom, and not knowing anyone who experienced anything like this with their kids, I had no idea what to do. My main fear was that if he continued to not eat he would not get the nourishment he needed. I thought, “Eating something is better than nothing!”, and so gave in and started giving him the foods he wanted. It seemed like it couldn’t hurt anything to give in and let him eat what he want because he was at least eating. WRONG! Giving in and letting him control his meals was the worst thing I could have done. I was making two dishes for every meal, my grocery cost jumped up (chicken nuggets may be easy to make but they are not cheap!), and his refusal to listen started to branch out into other areas such as cleaning up his messes.
I struggled with this for years before finally getting so frustrated with it that I started actually working on changing his eating habits and not letting him control his meals. If you want to avoid my experience then DON’T GIVE IN. Your child will not starve, no matter how stubborn they are. But what if you’ve already given in? No worries, you CAN get them to eat what you make, it’ll just take some time and hard work on your part. Here is what I did that worked!
Since your child is already stubborn and butting heads with you over food it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get them to start eating everything you make right off the bat. What I found worked best was still giving him a choice, but he could only choose items that I made for the meal with a specific number of substitutions each month (I started with 4 substitutions).
How exactly does this work? Say you have three food items in your meal: grilled chicken, potatoes, and green beans. My son was allowed to pick ONE item he would eat ALL of, ONE item he would eat half of, and the final item was one he had to TRY (2-3 bites) or he could substitute if he had a substitution left. But his substitution was limited to specific items, such as applesauce, fruit, veggies, etc.
In less than 8 months “substitution” disappeared at meals, and still has yet to come back years later. Hopefully this method will work for you as well, but as each child is different don’t get discouraged if it seems to be taking longer. The key to your success is NOT GIVING IN! Just keep at it and you’ll see results. The final tip I can give you is this: explain everything to your child…the substitution method (how it works, the rules you are putting in place, etc) and why you are doing it. Explaining may not work as well with a toddler, but school aged children will definitely understand and that will make it MUCH easier. Putting a calendar up to keep track of each substitution and next to that a break down of the rules is surprisingly helpful as well, especially when they argue!
Thanks for reading, and good luck!