Raising a picky eater can feel like you’re being insulted by that food critic from Ratatouille multiple times a day. Slaved over a hot grill to make an amazing steak? This looks like something that could have been scraped from a shoe, remove it at once! Produced an omelet to die for? What folded abomination have you laid upon the table? It goes to the floor! Made a peanut butter and jelly as a last ditch? This would have been perfect save for being desecrated by the presence of crust! Commence tantrum!
The problem, however, is that internalizing the actions of a picky eater can make the issue worse. Because the more uptight you get about your kid eating, the less likely your kid will eat. Here are 10 ways to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Don’t Be A Short-Order Cook
You know, those guys behind the spinny ticket thing at your local diner. They can make you a passable taco platter while also slinging a pretty good chicken fried steak. But you’re a parent and you shouldn’t treat your kid like a customer ready to smack with your a 1-star Yelp review. Make stuff that you and your partner will dig. Make it healthy and then add something you know your kid will eat. That’s it.
Don’t Stress Too Much
You and your partner’s job is to put a variety of good healthy food on the table at regularly scheduled and reasonable intervals. Your kid’s job is to decide if they’re going to eat it. And then how much of it they’re going to eat. Once you get to that place, your job is to chill the hell out. If you need to have a cocktail to calm down, go ahead and have 2.
Don’t Be A Food Pusher
Concurrent with you being the most chill dinner companion the world has ever seen, you do not want to spend the whole time badgering your kid to eat something. Not only will it cause them to loathe dinner, it will also cause you to loathe dinner. It’s possible that this could also create an epic power struggle. And just like you never want to get involved in a land war in Asia, you never want to get into a power struggle with a toddler. Ask them once to go ahead and take a teeny bite. Then move along.
You don’t know the meaning of backfire until you’ve bribed and bargained with your kid at the dinner table. Before long, they’ll eventually just want to skip the eating-stuff-they-hate part and jump straight to the reward. Because bargaining shows a weakness on your part. And toddlers are masters at exploiting weakness.
Don’t Give Up
There’s an old picky-eater saying: It can take 15 tries before they eat something other than fries. Actually, that’s not a saying. But it is a true thing. 15 appears to be the magic number of tastes that need to transpire before a picky kid will actually come around to liking something, or not. So keep those peas coming to the plate.
(Note that this number does not hold true for other things in life. So maybe quit asking your partner about butt-stuff)
Get Them Involved
Take your kid shopping and let them pick out some things they may want to try. Pull a chair up to the kitchen counter and let them “help” you prepare. Let them set or “decorate” the dinner table. Maybe let them pick out the dinner music. Just get them invested in the process. In the end, you might still have a picky eater but also an inspired future restaurateur. Your kid could be the next David Chang. Though that would make you one lucky peach.
Give Them The Benefit Of the Doubt
It’s possible that your kid is well and truly disgusted by something they are putting in their mouth. That’s because your kid may be overly sensitive to flavors and smells. This particularly happens with kids who are affected by mental disabilities like autism. Of course, just because your kid seems honestly disgusted by a food that doesn’t mean they have autism. So don’t freak out.
Also, remember that trying new stuff is hard. Kids get freaked out by putting something they’ve never seen into their face. You would too. Don’t think that’s true? Well then everyone looks forward to seeing you happily chowing cricket flour cookies without hesitation.
Start Super Small
If you’re offering something new, start out super small. No, smaller than you’re thinking right now. And then let them spit it out into a cup if they aren’t digging it. Then try again in a couple of days. If they do start eating it, you can bump up the size until they are chomping whole broccoli heads.
Make Dinner Fun
The best thing about not giving so many craps about what and how much your kid is eating is that dinner can start being fun. So go ahead and tell knock-knock jokes that don’t make sense. Make animal noises. Converse. Make it a game. When you’re not yelling, and your kid isn’t melting down, things get way better.
If you’re looking to get your kid into something new, try calling it something else. For instance, some researchers discovered that you can get kids to eat more carrots by calling them x-ray vision carrots. So maybe, massive muscle meatballs? The sky’s the limit!
Finally, if you’re seriously concerned that there’s a deeper problem for your kid not eating, call your pediatrician. There are interventions for kids who refuse food to the point of it being harmful. But this probably isn’t your kid. It’s far more likely they’re practicing to be the world’s most withering, rat-befriending food critic.