Growing up, I had a friend whose mother would save whatever he refused to eat at one meal and serve it to him for the next. I don’t know about you, but I doubt I would recall my childhood very fondly if I’d routinely had the same bowl of soggy cereal set before me for several meals running. I’m so grateful my mother chose a different tack.
Anytime I was reluctant to eat something she served, she’d encourage me to try “just one bite.” Who knows? Maybe I’d find that I liked it.
She hoped that, given enough one-bite samplings, I’d eventually develop a taste for the new dish, but in the meantime, she didn’t make me eat it. There were plenty of other options on the table, and if nothing there appealed to my appetite, there would be another meal served a few hours later — no grazing on junk food in the interim.
Although I don’t think my mom and dad ever compiled a list of hard-and-fast rules regarding mealtimes, they adhered to some guiding principles, which my husband and I have tried to follow in raising our own children. These may be summed up as follows:
How to Deal with Picky Eaters:
- Avoid junk
Junk food is high in calories and low on nutrition — and the companies that sell it have done extensive research to make it as addictive as possible. Any efforts to train your children to eat whole, healthful food will fall flat if you stock your pantry with high fat, high sugar, high salt alternatives and allow them to graze between meals.
- Offer variety
Consistently put a variety of good, wholesome food in front of your children at mealtimes, and they will eventually learn to love most if not all of it. Set a good example for them to follow and don’t let your dinner hour turn into a time of contention.
- Be patient
Your children’s food preferences will mature as they do. Encourage them to try new foods, but don’t try to force them to eat anything. That’s a battle you can’t win. If there is something you know your child particularly dislikes, pair it with a healthful option you know he’ll eat. I have one son who hates beans but loves salad, so anytime I make bean soup, I serve a big salad alongside it.
- Don’t obsess
Don’t freak out if a friend or relative offers your child something he normally isn’t given at home. An occasional piece of candy or drink of soda will not completely undermine your child’s health or negate the good progress you’ve made toward establishing healthful eating habits — and you will both learn important lessons about gratitude and flexibility in the process.
Thanks to my parents’ efforts, I learned to like a wide variety of healthful foods from a young age, although it was not until I was an adult that I finally developed a fondness for green beans. Now they’re my favorite, but I had a hard time even swallowing “just one bite” as a child. I’d gag every time.
I’m so glad my parents took such a balanced approach to training my taste buds. They didn’t reward finicky-ness by catering to my every culinary whim, but neither did they try to break me of personal preferences by making battles over diet a hill on which to die. They suspected I would eventually come around — and they were right.