Children are funny creatures. For as simple and straightforward as they are in a lot of ways, at times they can really throw you for a loop. Take eating, for instance. When I started weaning Bug onto solid foods, I followed the Annabel Karmel guidelines which are sort of a ‘standard practice’ in England with a lot of moms. Start by introducing vegetables and fruits – one at a time, on their own, so they learn the different flavors. Then you start blending them into combos of 2 or 3, eventually adding meats and so on and so forth. It worked brilliantly – Bug ate everything! She loved almost everything she tried, even steamed pureed spinach on its own. The only thing she was picky about at first was carrots – weirdly, as they’re sweet!
I was pretty pleased with myself, thinking I finally had one thing sorted as a new mom, started feeling confident. And then all of a sudden a few months later, she started refusing to eat things that she’d been eating for months!! It was such a surprise. I could not figure out what had changed, why she all of a sudden didn’t like chicken, or potatoes, or certain flavors of yogurt. She became this incredibly picky eater overnight and we are only starting to make our way out of that particularly twisted forest.
Here are a few things that I learned from the worst of the picky phase:
1) Hide veggies! Steam them, puree them, and sneak them into pasta sauces, layers of lasagna, soups, stews, smoothies, whatever you know your little one likes and will eat!
2) Be creative. Use different spices and flavors to disguise things your child doesn’t like or try to find new flavors that are liked. Ginger, paprika, garlic, basil, even a mild curry powder – Bug ate surprisingly spicy and flavorful foods at a pretty young age! I would make her food without much spice at first and then I saw her preference for the more intense flavors I was eating. Pears steamed with a hint of ginger and vanilla get a wildly different reaction than plain pears! And if all she'd eat is cheese, I'd try to find varying ways to use it: Grilled cheese sandwiches. Cheese omelets. Cheese quiche. Cheddar chicken fingers. Cheesy mashed veggies. Go wild - you might stumble upon something new that you find your child really enjoys!
3) Make food fun! This one was the biggest help. Let little ones play with their food so it becomes more of a game. Use small cookie cutters to put shapes in things. Serve ‘dippers’ and don’t stress about the mess! Bug had great fun ‘dipping’ toast fingers and cucumber sticks into yogurt. She hates cucumbers but she ate a little of them because they were covered in yogurt (as was the rest of her!). She even refused to eat spaghetti for ages – until I stopped trying to feed it to her myself and just let her dig in with her hands, and now she adores pasta! Sure, most of it ended up on the floors and the walls for a while, but she eats the vast majority of it now.
4) Travel will have an impact. Bug doesn’t like food at restaurants (I think it’s a little salty for her) and will typically only munch on bread if we’re out. It’s even worse if we’re traveling – airport food is not really great at catering for kids and hotels are much the same. Children’s meals are geared towards older kids, and are most often fried chicken fingers, burgers, or mini pizzas. Knowing that she can be picky and that we will struggle to find something on a menu for her, we plan ahead. We make sure her bag is packed chock full of snacks and foods that she will eat and travels well: bananas, puffed organic rice snacks, raisins, small crackers or a piece of brown bread, washed blueberries or strawberries. If it’s a short trip and will keep cold I’ll also bring some cheese and yogurt. I’d rather her eat all snacky foods that are mostly healthy than nothing at all – or worse, have a total meltdown because she’s so hungry and doesn’t want anything on the menu!
5) Have a plan B. If you know that it’s unlikely that your child may eat what you’ve made, despite spending time and effort on it (harrumph), keep a few simple meals that they always like in your arsenal, so you don’t waste time cooking up a whole new complicated dinner when a little nose turns up at the first meal you made. Some simple meals that work for us:
- scrambled eggs / omelet, toast, and berries
- homemade (no sugar) pancakes, bananas, and yogurt --> these are particularly great because you can add a little bit of fruits or even savory things to the pancakes so they're not boring!
- beans and cheese on toast
- fish fillets or tuna chunks, peas, and plain pasta
6) Lastly - and as ever - Pick your battles. Why force the issue? If your child is getting relatively decent nutrients from what they do happily eat, why fight them at every last meal trying to convince them to eat something they don't want, when you know it is going to cause upset, tears, and turmoil? Mealtimes with family should be happy, chatty, catching up on your day endeavours - not greeted with dread and a steely resolve. A sidebar to this - if you've had a tough day, you've been butting heads on other things with your little all day long or a stressful day at work, avoid adding fuel to the fire and just take a freebie - make something you know they'll be happy to eat. It may just give you the strength to try more adventurous tastes the next day.
*I am by no means an expert and these are only my opinions - but they worked for me so perhaps one or two might be helpful to someone else!
Today I'm linking up with Brittany, Christine, and Ashley for the Mamas Tell All - Picky Eaters edition, and I'm linking up with Anne as ever for her Wednesday Wishes! My wishes this week are that we all continue to keep our (generally) healthy eating habits up, despite the larger portion sizes here that I seem to have forgotten about, and the emphasis in the grocery store on quick and easy food. I miss cooking for us three and I only hope that by the time I have my own kitchen again that I will have the energy to get back into it, and the creativity to keep Bug's tastes growing and maturing! (Also - I wish that I do not gain too much weight with this pregnancy - I hear it gets harder to shake it off postpartum after the first one...eek!)