My Child Was A Picky Eater So Here's What I Did

by Jennifer Landis
Originally Published: 
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Sitting your kid down for dinner means going to battle, because they’re bound to find something to hate on their plate — whether that’s food touching or the weird texture of a vegetable they liked well enough last week. But that was last week.

When it comes to a picky eater, no amount of negotiation or arguing works with them in the long run. New research supports what we knew all along — pressuring kids to sample new foods isn’t going to stop them from being tricky, picky eaters.

The Power Of Choice May Surprise You

Researchers at the University of Michigan wanted to know more about children’s eating habits — including consequences for picky eating and kids’ weight. Parents always apologize for their child’s picky eating, but they shouldn’t feel ashamed. According to the study, behavior changes don’t result from insisting on what your child eats, and pressuring your child to eat foods they don’t like links with picky eating. Researchers discovered picky eating didn’t affect the child’s weight at all from ages 21 to 33 months, matching the growth chart for non-picky eaters.

Saying “Eat your broccoli, or you will sit here until you have a clean plate” does nothing to change the circumstances. How does that teach your child they have agency over their own bodies? No link exists between picking eating and pressuring. Instead, dinner transforms into a chore as a result of this battle of wills and results in frustration for both parent and child.

How I Fixed The Picky Eater Conundrum

I thought I was doing the right thing by trying all the parenting tactics in books and following all the unsolicited advice that didn’t end up fitting my family. This included insisting my child sample food she despised, which caused her to hate it all the more. She wasn’t happy with me, and I didn’t feel happy with myself, either.

Sometimes, I sneak ice cream before dinner, especially at the end of a super stressful day. The cooling sensation of one of my favorite comfort foods cools me down, too, and it places me in the right frame of mind to be present for my kiddo and hubby. She’s caught me and added her own mixed feelings in there. Yes, I’m the adult, and if I want ice cream, I’ll have it — I earned that right over the course of decades.

However, I also look like a huge hypocrite to my kid. That affects our relationship. So, while I continue to sneak ice cream and chocolate at odd times of the day and night, we now have a scoop of ice cream before dinner when we feel like it.

Dessert before dinner is a game-changer, folks — she’s more considerate of the colorful stuff on her plate, and it helps with not overstuffing. Stop the endless questions about dinner and dessert, and just hand over the sweetness.

Effort goes into dessert before dinner — and my kid loves it. You don’t need an ice cream maker, either. Make no-churn ice cream with heavy whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk as your foundation, mixing the whipping cream until it peaks. Then, fold in the milk. Freeze in a container for four to six hours — the questions calm down since your kid gets a hand in the making — and they get to customize the flavor, too. Add chocolate chips, caramel or whatever you please.

Give your kid a say in what they eat. That freedom strengthens family cooperation and respect while building problem-solving skills. Craving some level of control over your life from a young age and learning to respect boundaries while striking out on your own prepares your kids for those tricky teen years and the road to adulthood.

Of course, don’t stuff your kids with junk food and sugar. Healthy desserts exist, and you can add fruit and nut toppings to gelato, for example. Offer choices that don’t overwhelm your child. If one doesn’t like peas, serve carrots instead, and your kid will definitely notice and appreciate the respect.

Approach what to eat for dinner in ways that increase the enjoyability of the meal and your time together. Researchers note that pressuring your picky eater can damage the parent-child relationship. That much control over your child may add to feelings of not doing anything good enough or right. Besides, taste is something you can’t control. You can add seasonings and change the method of cooking, but if they hate it, let it go. Forcing your kid to eat something they don’t like won’t decrease the degree of disdain.

Try involving your child in tasks for mealtime, and allow them to help pick out what to eat. You can build their interest in healthy food and share basic meal preparation lessons. Let your child help stir ingredients and crack open eggs — they’ll feel the pride and hard work that goes into a meal.

Everyone has a preference when it comes to food. Make it a team effort instead of a battle. No matter how small the gesture, your child will appreciate having a say, and you’ll both get your way in the end — and have more enjoyable quality time together, too.

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