Monday, May 9, 2011

How to Deal with a Picky Eater

I must admit that I prided myself in the fact that I did not have picky eaters! I thought I had that figured out...I refused to put up with that and taught my boys the sentiment "you get what they get and you don't throw a fit". Well, that was the case with my first 3 boys...but how foolish I was to think that it was that easy with all children. Along came my fourth son Bridger, weighing in at a whopping 9 lbs 14oz. I thought that surely this little butterball would be the best eater of all!! How wrong I was!
Inside this sweet little body resides a very STRONG spirit with an iron will. He absolutely refused to be forced into eating anything that was not on his "approved list" of foods. Which was very small, by the way:) This chubby baby turned into a very thin toddler who didn't seem to care much about eating or food.

No amount of orders, threats, or manipulation would get him to eat his dinner. All the toughness that worked so well with his older brothers seemed to have no effect on him. He would miss out on treats during family movie night, go to bed hungry and still not budge in his decision to not eat the food placed before him.

It was extremely frustrating and damaging to our relationship at times! I seemed to be the one being manipulated. Soon he never ate with the family because I was too tired of the fight at the dinner table. I was worried about his weight and health and I wanted peace and quiet. So I ended up giving him something separate that he liked. Everyone was happy and his little tummy was full. This went on for long time and then one day it hit me that I was not doing him or our family any good with giving in and catering to this "picky eater" lifestyle. It was time consuming and not healthy for him or our family. So I put my foot down mentally, but did not know how to go about it fixing the problem.
I will admit that this little journey of helping Bridger become a healthy eater has been overwhelming at times BUT rewarding too. I have grown so much and so has he. While this is work in progress, I can report that we have come a LONG way and I celebrate that fact:) He still struggles with dinner some nights, but there is no more tears, or throwing up when trying a new food (uh yes that did happen several times when dinner was forced upon him! It was traumatic for him and me) I don't profess to have all the answers, but this is what has helped us!

So here is my advice for
Helping Picky Eaters:

** Preface**You may think this is funny, but my biggest advice is first of all...pray for inspiration. As Mothers I feel like we have a direct line to heaven when it comes to the welfare of the little souls placed in our care. Those children are God's before they are ours. I think of them as 'on loan'. I believe that our Heavenly Father LOVES His children and wants the best for them. We are blessed when we take our concerns to him regarding those precious little ones-I know that He cares and will direct us on what is best for their progression and development. I have found that when I do this I am blessed with more love than ever for my child, the ability to see clearly what needs to be done and the faith (and stamina) to see it thru.

#1 NUTRITIONFirst, I decided I would pay close attention to providing good nutrition for him and our whole family. I started making green smoothies (full of spinach and fresh fruit and berries) everyday. This became a family tradition. I enlisted the help of the older family members in setting a good example--telling them how important this was for our picky eater to have this awesome "liquid gold". I put the smoothie in a plastic Batman cup with a lid and straw and he shockingly slurped them right down. I felt like it was my insurance policy that he was getting the nutrients he needed even if he didn't eat much. Even though it may not seem like it--children really will eat enough for their needs. Just make sure you don't let them fill up on junk food. Give them nutrient rich food and then a little bit can go a long way in nourishing them.
Next for me I had to establish clear expectations ("family rules" regarding meal time/ eating) I like the idea that you give your children clear guidelines or expectations but let them choose for themselves. There needs to also be clear consequences for their choices. (ei they may be hungry later--but they only eat at scheduled meal/snack times or sitting at the table, they have to go to bed early if they cry and whine at the table OR no treats unless they have one bite everything on their dinner plate etc--WHATEVER YOU DECIDE is best) Children can learn this concept quickly at a young age.

#3 NO PRESSURE OR Extra Attention
I tried to be very careful to not make a big deal out of food and mealtimes. I felt that it was important that no pressure or stress be associated at all with eating. He knew our "rules" or expectations but I didn't want to talk about it the whole meal and give it too much attention. On the other hand, the decided upon consequences were clear and non-negotiable. We gave a warning or two, but then we were consistent with the follow through--and we never showed any anger or extra attention while giving the consequence. If was just "matter of fact" with as little talking about it as possible. (this was hard at first--but it did work:)

I have found that children love to feel in control of their world as much as possible. Letting them have more control with food/mealtimes will help. Maybe they get to help choose the meal, the drink, the plate or even help prepare it.
Celebrate any success. I tred I take him aside with a little hug whenever I saw that he was making progress. From the start of this little campaign to change his picky eating, I have tried to build him up and treat him like he is becoming a good healthy eater. As he started to do better, I tried to tell him sincerely and regularly that I was so happy that he was learning to eat his dinner and that his body was getting healthy, big and strong! At one point we put stickers on a chart each time he ate a bite of all the food on his plate at dinner--when he had a certain number of stickers we celebrated with a small new toy. I could see the pride in himself grow as he saw his success and it fueled his desire to try harder.

A key for me with my boys is LOVE. You can have firm rules and expectations that do not change--but at the same time you can show unconditional love not tied to their choices. That is the most important thing. Children crave and thrive on their Mother's love. I found that a Mothers love is powerful stuff:)

I keep editing this post with a little less specifics about what I did, because every child and family is different. What worked for us may not be right for you--but I think the general ideas above are true for all children. The specifics are where inspiration comes into play--so you know what is the best route to take with your child and their paticular personality and situation. I hope these general ideas help with your little picky eaters! Good luck my friends!
And please know that I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments:)


Lisa said...

Melanie, I love reading your blog and think about you often. My Bryce is a total picky eater, he is skin and bones and I have no answers. But our family joke is that we are sure he is going to go someplace completely foreign on his mission where he will have to eat bugs, dog and fish guts. Maybe that will cure him :)

Anica said...

Thanks for this post. I really enjoy reading your blog. I am today to find ideas of what to plan for dinner this week. Thank you for being such a great example of motherhood. Thanks for your thoughts about children being on loan.

Susan said...

I am so struggling with this with my youngest - he is 4 1/2 and is my pickiest by far!!! Thanks for the suggestions!!

Erin said...

Wonderful post, sis! I love this. Thank you for your good insights.

Heather Miller said...

We are struggling with this exact same thing right now with my 3 year old. He will not eat anything at dinner and absolutely nothing helps! Its been really frustrating so I am very thankful for all your tips and can't wait to try them out. Thanks again!

Laura said...

My name is Laura & I am a pushover! All my kids are picky eaters, but especially Noah. He's THE WORST. I know what I need to do differently, but I REALLY appreciate this post as motivation & for some new ideas :) xoxo

Evan and Holly said...

My 2 year old and I went to the nutrition clinic here in SLC at Primary's where we met with a doctor, intern, social worker, and nutritionalist. We were told that the way in which to make it better is to only feed your child at the table during schedule meal times. No drinking accept at that time (it tends to fill them up making them not hungry for food). Give them 4-5 opportunities to eat a day (so every 3 hours). Think of these times as small meals and not snacks. Do not beg, set limits (one more bite), coerce, promise rewards or force them to eat. You give them what you want to give them and they can take it or leave it. If they leave it, they'll wait for 3 hours.

It is not only supposed to help them grow, but also to help them be less picky. My son, who lost weight over a ten month period, gained 1 1/2 lbs in two months. It also works great because I have a baby, and he needs to eat frequently.

Francis said...

After a couple of years fighting the food battle, we found out that my 3 1/2 year old has a reflux disorder. In her words, "My tummy hurts when I eat." So the picky thing was explained. Along with a daily dose of Prevacid, we have had to work through bad habits she developed during those two years. Sitting at the dinner table & eating is so hard for her. My mom shared a phrase with me & that I remind myself of (rather than battling)... I decided WHAT & WHEN (the inspiration comes into play here) and she decides IF. There is no longer a struggle. Thanks for your words of advice & those from others who have commented.

Emmy Montez said...

This is really great. I especially appreciated the comments about praying for inspiration and extra love no matter their decisions. My little 3 year old will make herself throw up as well! It is a real trial for me, and it's good to hear other's are going through it as well, and that there is hope! Baby steps, right? Thank you.

The Francis Family said...

I just found out my son is officially "underweight" due to his pickiness. He has severe peanut allergies and I am certain this has something to do with not liking new foods. The green smoothie idea sounds amazing. Thank you for your tips! We will also be trying out some of your rules. Thank you!!

Vicky Chrisner, Real Estate Consultant said...

As a picky eater (even still) I beg every mom to realize that taste is individual...things don't taste the same to me as to other people. I have 4 kids, 1 eats anything (she's 8), 1 puts things on his plate and disects it but mostly eats what I like (he's 24), 1 that eats everything I don't (he's 22) and 1... well, he eats chips (he's 5).

Personally, my parents and I found peace when we established some ground rules: I sat at the dinner table, and tried to eat something that was served, and I was polite without the gagging crapola kids like to pull. They didn't make me eat anything. They soon learned I was happy to go hungry if I didn't like dinner. Besides, my lunch was packed and I was usually allowed my choice of breakfast... so what if I picked at dinner... I ate 2 other meals a day. Well, most of the time. Mom says I went 6 months only eating Cheerios and another 6 months only eating PMJ.

Despite mom taking me to the doctors a million times concerned about my weight and lack of protein (I don't like meat), I was always healthy.

So, unless the doc is worried, remember your child is of the human variety and has instincts... if he gets hungry enough he'll eat. And, unless you have made it a test of wills, he won't fight his natural instincts.... he'll go with it.

I believe heavily that we're equipped to survive... I know that I needed protein when I was pregnant.. in my first week of my first pregnancy I woke up craving eggs and ham - food I hadn't had in 20 years. I know I crave OJ (I don't normally like it) when I am ill. I also crave cinnamon when my stomach is upset - and the science community is just finding out about the health benefits and why that makes sense. My point is that our bodies will tell our minds what to do.

In the mean time, worry about the manners, and maybe 1 night a week serve what he likes. (For my "chip" boy, we sometimes have chips for dinner - Chicken Nachos - and he loves it.) Encourage him to eat but don't put too much emphasis on it... some unhealthy eating habbits become tied to emotional issues (I eat when I am nervous, I eat to feel loved, I eat when I am depressed, etc.). There are theories that is tied to us moms making meals too much of a focus - not sure I buy that, but who wants to risk it?

One thing I definately know... and the more kids you have the more you'll know this is true... children are born who they are. We may be able to influence them but we can not control them. So let them be and help them be the best self they can.... and love them for it... even if you can only get them to eat chips.

Sharon Anne Hill said...

My heart goes out to the moms here with picky eaters; I have a grandson who is one too.

With my children it was food allergies. One was allergic to soy and another developed candida due to ear infections and anti-biotics.

It was hard and hectic, but the silver-lining was that I became more creative and learned to become quite an good cook from scratch.

Now, all my children have grown into healthy adults, who love their mother's cooking.

I am new to your blog, but I've enjoyed every post so far.

Sharon Anne @

Janet said...

My niece is 8 years old. She has struggled from day one with her eating...all the way back to breastfeeding! She was finally diagnosed at age 5 with Sensory Processing Disorder. ( Finally, everything made sense!

I recommend what Vicky suggests: Set rules but also realize that your child is a unique individual. Also, speak to your pediatrician to rule out other issues, such as SPD or food allergies. And last, as you so wisely suggested, pray for discernment and go with your "gut." My sister always "knew" something more was going on with her daughter. So she continued giving her formula (one of the only things she liked) until she was 5 and diagnosed! (The specialist doctor later praised my sister for doing this, as it was the one, if not the only, nutritious thing my niece ate some days!)

Sandee said...

I really appreciate this post, especially since you did everything you could not to have picky eaters but found sometimes the kid just "comes that way." I have picky eaters and sometimes I feel like people think I made them that way by catering to their wants. We also have a firm take a bite of everything on your plate rule at dinner time and it has made dinner time so much less stressful. Granted, one of them is still really picky, but when they learn to like something new, I cheer! :) I try to have a couple nights that I know they like what we're having (especially on FHE night since no one should have to miss FHE treats) and throw in a couple where they won't be thrilled. Then, we have one night a week that is always pizza. So far it's working. I really appreciated your advice to pray too. Thanks again!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! Any suggestions for picky husbands? I am newly married, and my husband is slowly learning to at least not be rude when he doesn't like something I make for him. Growing up, his dinners generally consisted of plain boneless chicken, canned corn and canned carrots. I know these will always be his favorites, but I just can't bring myself to eat them, or even to serve them on a regular basis! How can one instill these concepts in an adult without patronizing?

Frankman's said...

My son also has a Sensory Processing Disorder as another commenter mentioned. I was told many times by pediatricians if you offer healthy options your child will eventually eat it, and if they are hungry enough then they will eat what is served them. When our son was 3, he was down to 5 different foods he would eat, even down to the brand name: home canned peaches, milk, a specific brand of graham crackers, danimals drinkable yogurt and fruit snacks. I decided enough was enough and he was going to eat what we all were eating. We didn't give him any of his preferred food for 3 days, and he still wouldn't eat anything. By the third morning he was severely dehydrated and almost needed to be hospitalized. This is when we discovered that he had a Sensory Processing Disorder, and unlike 95% of other kids, he would not eat when he was hungry if it wasn't a food that he was okay with. We put him in occupational therapy and after three years, he is still a picky eater, but doing so much better. Listen to your motherly insincts, so you know how serious of a problem your child's picky eating is.

Site Design By Designer Blogs