Thursday, July 23, 2015

You do not like them so you say...try them! Try them and you may!

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Shortly before Knox was born, Dash went on a food strike. I wish I was joking when I say that he refused to eat anything but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for almost a year. Mister Sir and I were so exhausted once Knox arrived that we decided it was a battle we weren't able to fight. We made a rule that he could have one PB&J a day (unless we were desperate) and a vitamin to ensure he was getting enough nutrients.

Eventually, I put my big girl pants on and decided it was time to tackle the picky eating beast. Let me tell you, it was rough. We struggled. We cheered every bite of new food until we were blue in the face.We drank excessive amounts of wine with dinner. Sometimes we yelled. We threatened. We bribed. We sent him to bed early and hungry. And we learned. We learned a lot.

10 Tips for Tackling Picky Eaters

1. Trying is the first battle. In the beginning we started small. We made our picky eater try a few bites of everything on his plate. Once he tried enough to satisfy us, he could have a treat like applesauce or yogurt to help ensure he was full. Something to keep in mind when trying new foods - I've read that kids need to try a new food at least three separate times before they can truly say they like or dislike it. I found this to be true in my house. If they don't love those Creamy Spinach and Black Bean Enchiladas the first time, try them again in two weeks. You may be surprised.

2. Stop serving fruit for dinner. I used to always put fruit on my kid's plate for dinner because I knew it was something they would definitely eat. The thing is, sometimes it was the ONLY thing they would eat. They managed to fill their little bellies up just enough on their fruit that they weren't motivated enough to try the other things on their plate. Every mom has their "slam dunk" item that ends up on the plate to ensure that their kid won't starve. But hunger is a very powerful tool. Use it to your advantage. I'm not suggesting you starve your children. I'm saying that a kid who didn't fill up on fruit is more likely to try what's on his plate because he's hungry.

3. Try hidden veggies. I hope my children will like vegetables some day. Today is not that day. Vegetables are still a hard sell in my household. Serving straight veggies requires a lot of encouragement from me and some days I just don't want to fight the good fight. Other days I serve my children a pile of broccoli and I expect them to eat it. I can't hold their hands forever; I will not be the mom that sneaks into their college dorm rooms to add pureed carrots to their Easy Mac. At some point they will have to put on their big boy pants and eat vegetables because they are good and good for them. Period. In the meantime, while it is my responsibility to ensure they are properly fed, I occasionally serve my kids hidden veggies for my own sanity.

4. Serve smaller portions or let your kid serve themselves. My kids are generally hungry, growing boys and I am accustomed to heaping food on their plates. When we started trying new foods I reduced the portion sizes significantly. If they liked their dinner, they could always have a second helping, but if getting them to take two bites of everything was a battle, then at least food wasn't being wasted. Another tactic worth trying is to let your kid choose how many scoops he wants; it's great opportunity to give him a little more control.

5. Use a timer if necessary. Dash is the king of stalling. He can sit with a single piece of food packed tightly in his cheek like a little squirrel until you lose your mind. We would harass him endlessly to take another bite and cheer "Chew, chew chew!" like maniacs for over an hour. Finally we bought a timer (I recommend a sand timer for little guys or something that has a visual of how much time is left.) We set it for 35 minutes and stopped harassing him. HE was in charge of finishing before the timer went off and if he didn't he would be hungry. Giving him a little more control made a world of difference. It took a few months, but now we rarely need the timer.

6. Try dipping sauces. My kids are crazy about sour cream. They like it on chicken, quesadillas and a variety of other things. If my kids actually eat their veggies or chicken with a side of ranch or with some shredded cheese on top, I consider it a win. Have I made their meal slightly less healthy? Yes. But they are still getting the necessary nutrients with less of a fight. Even adults don't always love their vegetables plain, why would I expect more from my kids?

7. Give up the afternoon snack. Once again, a hungry kid is more likely to try their dinner.

8. Don't make your kids a separate meal. It's a slippery slope and the next thing you know you'll be a short order cook at every meal. Making a spicy chicken pasta for dinner? Set aside some plain chicken and pasta before you season it. I still make my kids a different meal on occasion, but I wonder if it would have been easier if I had never gone down this road in the first place.

9. Offer rewards cautiously. I'm a believer that my kids shouldn't be rewarded for things they should do anyway. Kids need to eat. Should they be rewarded for doing something that is basic to their survival? Probably not. But when we first started to work on trying new things, we offered small incentives if they emptied their plate. Remember these Magic Grow Capsules? Dash got to grow one after dinner if he finished his meal. Eventually he started to finish his meal without being bribed and we just let the incentives die out. Other great incentives are high-fives, fist bumps, and the fruit you didn't put on their plate for dinner.

10. Avoid the power struggle when possible. Sometimes you have break out the "I AM MOM, HEAR ME ROAR. You will do what I say because I am the parent and I know what is best for you." Like eating your vegetables so you can grow up big and strong. But my son is strong-willed (not unlike his mother) and he loves a challenge. I found that when I dug my heels in, so did he. However, when I put the ball in his court, he took it and ran with it. Anywhere you can give your child (a reasonable amount of) control, do it. Do you want corn or peas with dinner? How many scoops of green beans do you want? Do you want ketchup or sour cream with your chicken? This is also how we arrived at the timer. When we put him in charge of eating his dinner before the timer went off we removed the power struggle. We no longer had to tell him to take a bite and chew it up. We no longer had to threaten that he'd lose his reward if he didn't finish his dinner. The battle was against the timer, not against us.

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Maybe you are tired of packing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every time you go to a birthday party because you know your kid won't eat any of the delicious food that is served. Maybe you shook in your boots when your son's preschool told you that they have a No Peanut Butter policy due to food allergies. I've been there. I am not a nutritionist. I am not a child psychologist. I am not a doctor. I am just a mom who has fought a long, hard battle with my son to try to encourage him to eat a healthy variety of foods. I'm sharing what I've learned in hopes that others may benefit from my successes and failures. It's a long road, but this is one time I can say that the grass is a little greener on the other side.

Need some inspiration for your picky eater? Find the Dr. Suess Try Them & You May printable here!

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