Sound familiar? Having a picky eater is such a universal experience. Most of us go through it, even if we had babies who ate everything.
I’ve been in this position with my own kids, four times! Here’s what worked best for us:
- Limit snacks. Hungry kids are less picky kids. Our kids have two snacks a day, one in between breakfast and lunch, and another between lunch and dinner. (If they’re desperately hungry beyond that, fruit is always available.) Also, try giving “real food” for snacks. Maybe a little chicken and rice, or a meatball with a cube of cheese and a cherry tomato on the side. Moving away from packaged snacks helped my kids crave them less.
- Front-load the meal. I had to hide the fruit basket from my first toddler because she’d burst into tears, begging for a plum instead of whatever meal I’d prepared. But that out of sight, out of mind strategy gave me an idea for my picky eater: serve the veggies first (keeping everything else out of sight.) Next comes the protein. And finally the starches (bread, rice, potatoes, etc.) And if dinner is something like pasta with meat sauce, just serve it after the veggies. It’ll feel like courses. Fancy!
- Offer deconstructed versions. Instead of a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs, what about a meatball with a few strands of plain pasta on the side? Salads are ideal for this method: a piece of crunchy lettuce next to a carrot with a bit of dressing to dip it in. Don’t underestimate dipping! Kids love that agency, and the movement too.
- Serve very, very small portions. It can be overwhelming for a child to see a full plate. Even my 7-year-old benefits from getting two bites of each thing at dinnertime. She eats everything then chooses what she wants more of. She gets autonomy, and we get less food wasted. (Want to get super fancy? Try serving these tiny portions in egg cups, dipping bowls or miniature mugs meant for a shot of espresso.)
- Offer something for everyone. There’s no shame in offering a bowl of sliced apples, baby carrots, or rolls with dinner. A friendly looking ingredient can make the whole meal less daunting for a picky eater. (Just add it at the end.)
Above all, know that you aren’t alone. Almost every parent goes through a stage like this. It’s normal. It’s exhausting. And I hope this helps.