In at least half of the classes I teach, I am asked how to get picky kids to eat their meals. This is a fairly simple issue to resolve, though it certainly isn’t easy.
My kids all have their own dislikes when it comes to food (as do I), but we have trained them from toddlerhood to eat what is put before them. My husband and I believe that they need a variety of good foods to make their bodies work well, and we, as adults, know what those good foods are and the means with which we have to provide them.
We also believe that gratitude is missing in our culture, and we want to teach our children to be grateful for what is put before them. We never want them to feel like they were entitled to customized meals–whether they are at our home or someone else’s. We truly want them to be able to eat whatever was put before them.
People often tell us we are lucky to have such good eaters. I’ll be honest: It was a lot of work when the kids were little. We had a rule that if you don’t eat what’s in front of you at this meal, you do not eat anything else until the next meal. There was a time or two with each of our three children when we wrapped up the “offensive” meal and put it in the fridge only to bring it out for the picky eater at the next meal. It was tough! I will honestly tell you, though, that none of our children refused that meal twice. There were times when they suffered through it with much drama…only to be so proud of themselves when it was finished. And, remarkably, many of the foods that initially disgusted our children are foods that they now very much enjoy.
My husband and I have caught a lot of grief over this method of training, and the criticism kind of leaves me scratching my head. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what is wrong with preparing nutritious meals within our means and setting the expectation that our children will eat them. It’s kind of like requiring a child to say “thank you” when they receive a gift. If they refuse to express gratitude, the gift is withheld. It’s not pleasant for the parent (or anyone else who is there as a witness), but it is a healthy and effective means of training. Our job as parents is not to make our kids happy; our job as parents is to prepare our children for life. Once they leave our homes, they will not have the option of throwing themselves on the floor and screaming to get what they want out of life. We need to prepare them for that.
Another tip is to allow the child to help in age-appropriate ways to prepare some foods in the kitchen. My kids took great pride in helping to make supper, and they were much more likely to give something new a fair shot if they had a personal investment in it. (I learned early to only have ONE child helping me at a time; otherwise, I was not very patient and kind with all of the help.)
The last thing I want to say is that if you do not want picky children, feed them a variety of foods from their earliest stages. If you do not want your teenager to subsist on hot dogs, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, do not make these foods their primary source of sustenance when they are young. I cannot tell you the number of young wives who have come to me over the years with frustration and bitterness in their voices as they struggle to find something cheaper to feed their picky husbands who are setting poor examples for their growing children.