Picky Eaters, Healthy Habits, and What You Can Do

As a mom, my main job is to make sure I keep my kids safe and healthy. When you have three kids under four years old, that definitely falls under the “easier said than done” category! The worry starts early, doesn’t it? What age should I start baby food? Should I do purees, baby led weaning, something in between? Will they have any food allergies?

Mama, I have BEEN there. No matter where you find yourself today in terms of your kids’ diet, chances are you truly have been doing the best you can.

My Picky Eater

As I mentioned, I have three kiddos! My oldest son is 3.5 years old and I have twin girls who are almost 2! Meal time is circus time around here. When my son started eating foods, we were off to a great start. He was trying tons of flavors and textures, enjoying most of what we presented him with, and eating the food we ate as a family. And then I became pregnant when he was 8 months old. And oh the hormones. I found myself being way too tired to put enough effort into making healthy dinners and so my son became very familiar with Kraft Mac & Cheese, chicken nuggets, and yogurt in all shapes and sizes. And then I had a miscarriage. If I thought I was tired and hormonal before, this was a whole new level. I’m sure many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Mealtime routines went down the tube and then came another twist in the plot. I became pregnant with my twins one month after miscarrying. Even before my first ultrasound, I remember telling my husband, “I’m either dying or it’s twins because I’ve never been this tired in my life.” Sure enough, God blessed us with two amazing girls!

For the remainder of my twin pregnancy, I was purely in survival mode. I did my best to keep myself hydrated and healthy and did my best to do the same for my son, but we both fell into bad eating habits by choosing the “easy” food. Lots of take out, lots of drive-thru food, lots of bright orange, microwaved mac n cheese. My once robust eater now was my picky eater.

It’s Never Too Late To Change

When it came time for my twins to start eating solid food, I was committed to making sure they ate a wide variety of healthy foods and kept with that habit. This required a household-wide change that eventually led to my own weight loss journey. Now my girls are phenomenal eaters with only the occasional toddler tantrum about certain foods. My son has also come a long way, often times trying foods because he sees his sisters’ trying foods! Thank God for positive peer pressure 🙂 It’s never too late to start making better choices for your kid’s nutrition. And just like our own health journeys, it shouldn’t be a cold turkey, smack in the face type of transition. Start by making small changes that everyone can cope with and work your way towards the larger goal, one small milestone at a time. For me, my first step was choosing which snacks I absolutely should not ever buy again (aka Doritos). Then I started searching for healthier alternatives and replaced the snacks in our house one by one. I find it much easier to change snacking habits than meal habits, so that may be a good place to start. Then maybe your next smaller milestone goal could be adding one healthy element to one meal, not trying to switch out an entire meal or all of your meals at once.

My girl Cara over at APurposeDrivenMom.com just did an amazing podcast about Habit Stacking that I highly recommend for situations like this! Find the Habit Stacking episode here!

Short Order Chef vs. Kitchen Sergeant

You’ve probably seen your friends say things like “I’m not a short order chef” or “My kids will eat what I make”. I can definitely understand and respect the sentiment, it’s just not how I approach it. Don’t get me wrong, I still have boundaries when it comes to mealtime, especially now that my kids are getting older and can understand more. I fall almost directly in the middle between short order chef and kitchen sergeant. My one twin will eat anything I put on her plate, the other twin will eat some of what I put on her plate, and my son almost never eats what we have for family dinner. While I don’t cook elaborate alternatives for my son, I do make sure I have easy, quick alternatives on hand at all times. For example, he loves a good bagel with cream cheese, so I always have bagels and high protein cream cheese around. He’s usually game for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I’m usually game to make one. I know he likes cheese, cheese for dinner then! My pediatrician once told me, you can’t look at what your toddler is eating in a 24 hour period and judge his diet based on that. Look and what he’s eating over a 3-5 day period and if his diet is generally balanced, then you’re doing a great job.

Kid Eating Pitfalls

We’ve all been there. You realize your kid is a picky eater, you know what they should be eating but at this point you’re just desperate for them to eat something, anything. Welcome to the pitfalls of kid eating.

  • Lying about ingredients or names of things (Goes beyond “hiding veggies” in things)
  • Bribery (If you take one bite of the veggies I’ll let you pick out a cookie/new toy/watch a show)
  • Ultimatums/threats (If you don’t take a bite right now you’re getting a time out)

Not only will these approaches likely make us even more frustrated, it will not foster a healthy relationship between your child and their food. And listen, there is no judgement here. Been there, said that. But once we are aware of the pitfalls we have been falling victim to, we can become better equipped to approach our picky eaters.

Outwit Your Picky Eater

My go to blog for solid medical advice in regards to my kids is TwoPedsInAPod.org written by pediatricians from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They have some amazing articles about picky eaters, and the list below is from this post here! Below you’ll find 12 ways to “outwit” your picky eater. Some of these may work for your current situation and some may not. Either way, these are great tools to stash away in your back pocket for future use!

  1. Never let them know you care about what they eat- “Talk about the day, not about the food on the table”
  2. Let them help cook- wash produce, mix, pour, measure
  3. Let them dip their food- salad dressing, applesauce, ketchup
  4. Let them pick their own food- gardening, grocery shopping, give two healthy choices at snack time (Do you want apple slices or grapes?)
  5. Offer them foods that you don’t like- THEY may actually like it!
  6. Use nutritional foods in recipes they already like- veggies in meatballs, squash in mac & cheese, Greek yogurt in a smoothie
  7. Continue to offer foods even if they are refused- don’t force feed, could take 20-30 exposures before trying
  8. Hunger is the best sauce- avoid “empty” snacks, offer wholesome/filling options when hungry 
  9. It is okay to repeat similar meals day after day as long as they are nutritious- toddlers prefer predictability 
  10. Turn off the TV (this one is new for our family!) – watching TV during meals is antisocial and promotes obesity
  11. Do not become a “short order” chef- However, it is OK to have some non-cook, nutrition back up meals (PB&J)
  12. You can give your child a pediatric multivitamin- it’s not “giving up”, it’s peace of mind

My Go-To Store Bought Items

Not everyone has the opportunity, ability, or willingness to make snacks homemade and that’s fine! Here are my favorite store bought items that help bridge the gap in my kids’ nutrition. (These are not affiliate links.) Pro tip: send emails or Facebook messages to your favorite kid brands like the ones mentioned below, let them know your kid loves their food and that you want coupons! Send them your address and 9 times out of 10, they will mail you some money saving coupons! I did this with all of the big name baby food brands, too, and they were all very generous. Beech Nut even sent my twins plush toys!

  1. Danimals Yogurt Smoothies
  2. Babybel Cheese
  3. Stonyfield Organic Yogurt Pouches (they even have dairy free versions!)
  4. Stonyfield Organic Snack Packs
  5. Outshine Fruit & Veggie Kid Bars (ice pops)

The Big Picture

Raising kids is messy. Trying to feed them is usually more messy. In the same way that we need to show ourselves grace on our own health journey, we need to show ourselves grace when it comes to feeding our kids. When you go to bed at night, you need to remember the big picture. How is their eating overall? How is their health overall? Don’t focus on individual meals, individual days. If your child goes beyond what you believe is a normal level of picky eating or if you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is developmentally appropriate, speak with your pediatrician. If your kids are like mine, they are just going through the normal toddler motions of running you completely ragged 🙂 Take a deep breath, Pinterest some kid friendly recipes, and keep trying. Exposure is key and they won’t be this picky forever!

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8 thoughts on “Picky Eaters, Healthy Habits, and What You Can Do”

  1. I think I fall in the middle of the strict mom and the short order chef as well. Being a parent is hard!! I love your tips though, especially the encouragement to try again and again.

  2. I can totally relate to this article! My eldest so is a picky eater and he still is at the eipe age of 8! However,he can make his own foods now so the struggle isn’t so bad anymore. My problem is he doesn’t like dairy products so makong sure he gets enough calcium has been a constant struggle. But he’s getting better . Thanks for the great write up!

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