End toddler mealtime battles - Introducing new foods to a picky eater
In this post I want to chat through the strategies I use for introducing new foods to a picky eater.
So here is the thing, veggies are important for good health and disease prevention.
Not just a little bit of vegetable content here and there, but loads of vegetables 8-10 servings of vegetables and fruit a day in fact, but how the heck do you convince a picky eater to eat these vegetables, or come to think of it even try these vegetables.
First off a little background on my picky eater
My Picky Eater
I have three children with a fourth on the way. They all have the same parents, they have all been introduced to foods in the same way, but that my friends, does not make them all the same!
My first child lulled me into a false sense of security, he is so confident when it comes to mealtimes, confident to try new foods, and confident to try new flavours, textures, and presentations.
I thought his confidence with eating was because of my excellent parenting skills…. Turns out this is not the case
My second child started solids with gusto. As a little one she chomped through spinach, asparagus and broccoli, then it all came to a screeching halt around 16 months old.
The mealtime battles began. I had what some would call a ‘Picky Eater’ a child who found mealtimes stressful, who found new foods, flavours and textures confronting.
Mealtimes became fraught with tears, yelling, tantrums, meal times were a battleground.
It wasn’t my parenting, I just had two different kids. One who found “learning to like” new foods really easy, and one who found “learning to like” new foods tricky and nerve-wracking.
My 6 tips to end mealtime battles and introduce new foods to a picky eater
Learning to like foods is a skill and like all skills, different kids will take different amounts of time to master it. Just like some kids master riding a bike in a day and others take months.
One thing I do want to check before you read on, is that when it comes to picky eating there is such a spectrum.
If you are really worried about your child's picky eating, it is always best to chat with a healthcare professional.
If you are unsure if your child’s picky eating is a problem, then check out this earlier article I wrote on determining whether your child's picky eating is a problem
In this article, I want to take you through how I have managed meal times with my picky eater to end the mealtime battles, keep my sanity and support their needs.
I will be using Countdown’s Macro Chickpea Veggie Burgers as my case study.
1. Manage YOUR Expectations
A successful family meal should not just be measured by the number of mouthfuls consumed.
If your kid happily sits at the table, chooses something to eat and leaves the table satisfied… That my friend is also a win!
By this, I mean that you may need to reduce your expectations in regards to what you serve as a family meal and you may need to reduce your expectations in regards to what your child chooses to eat at each meal.
2. Have a YES list of foods
Sit down and write a list of the foods that your child eats confident and that you are happy for your child to eat at meal times.
Your child may happily eat chocolate cake, but you may not be happy for your child to eat chocolate cake at meal times, this means this food does not make it onto the YES LIST.
On the other hand your child may eat carrot sticks and that is a food you are happy for them to eat at meal times, so this food will make it onto your families YES LIST
Every families YES LIST will look different and that is ok. Allergies, food aversions, sensory disorders etc can affect YES LISTS and you should not feel bad about what is or isn’t on your YES LIST.
The goal is that this YES LIST of foods is going to grow over time.
3. Serve a Family Style Meal
Serve everything in the centre of the table so that all family members can choose from the food on offer.
The younger your children, the more assistance you will need to give when it comes to serving up food from the central dishes, but as kids get older they can start loading their own plates.
At this point you need to remember tip 1 “reduce your expectations” and tip 2 “have a YES LIST of foods” when you are deciding what to serve in the centre of your table.
When serving a family style meal when you have a picky eater I find it best to make sure that there are foods on the table that your child is confident to eat and that you are happy for them to have. i.e. have YES LIST foods available
This may mean that you might serve a plate of carrot sticks on the table or a bowl of grated cheese even if these foods don’t entirely go with the meal you have prepared.
It could mean that you serve pasta and pasta sauce separately so that individuals can add the sauce to the pasta themselves. You might have two bowls of curry on the table, one that you have added extra spice to and one you have not added chilli to.
This means that your picky eater has options at the table that you are happy for them to have, and it means that you aren’t preparing a second meal for them.
It means everyone is eating as a family, eating from the dishes available but that everyone is able to choose what they want. Your Picky Eater may just choose the carrot, grated cheese and plain pasta but that is ok!
As your child's confidence and food repertoire grows your YES LIST will grow and change too.
4. Use this phrase when needed
I find this one phrase so liberating when you are eating with a child who is learning to like food, a picky eater. “You do not have to eat it” I use it often.
“Muuuummmmm! But I don’t like pumpkin!!”
“That’s ok, you don’t have to eat it”
5. Role Model The Behaviour You Want To See
Kids tend to learn from watching others, so make sure you sit up with your kids at meal time and make sure they see you loading your plate with veggies etc.
You don’t have to make a big deal about it, but them seeing you, filling up half your plate with vegetables does help to normalise veggie eating.
6. Be Confident, Be Consistent
Kids are going to test boundaries. That is what they do. A picky eater is going to probably see if they can get their way in regards to the food that is on offer at meal time.
They most likely will try to turn you into a short order cook to see if you will make them a separate meal if they complain enough.
I strongly believe that this is something you shouldn't give in to. i.e you shouldn't think ‘oh goodness they haven’t eaten anything, I’ll make them some peanut butter toast to fill them up”
If you have made sure that there was food on the table that your child will eat, i.e. foods from the “yes list” then I think you should be confident and consistent and not offer a second meal to the picky eater.
I really do believe that it's better for those foods to be on offer for everyone at the family mealtime, rather than making a second meal later.
If you are happy for your child to have fruit and yoghurt, or a peanut butter sandwich later, then maybe those foods should become part of your YES LIST for the time being and be on offer at meal time. As your child's food repertoire increases then these foods can come off the yes list and be replaced with others if you want.
Real life example: How I introduced Chickpea Veggie Burgers to my family
- I went in with low expectations, I did not expect that all my families would even try the chickpea burger patties the first time I served them.
- I made sure there were foods on the table that my “picky eater” is confident with alongside the foods I hope one day she will learn to like. I know she merrily eats bread, cheese, carrot and mango and all these options were available as burger fillings
- I served everything in the centre of the table and my family could choose whatever they wanted to put on their burger
- My daughter panicked at both the lettuce and the chickpea veggie burgers but I just used my tried and true “you do not have to eat it” phrase to get us through
- I ate with the kids and they saw me loading up my burger with all the good stuff
- No second meal was offered to the kids as although they didn't all choose to have a fully loaded burger they all did find something on the table to make sure they left satisfied.
Two kids had the chickpea burgers, one actually in the burger, one had some on the side (a deconstructed burger if you will) one didn’t try the chickpea patty at all, and that is ok.
We can try again another day. I had a DELICIOUS burger loaded with all the good stuff so all in all this was a totally successful family meal!