For most people, there is nothing suspenseful about dinnertime: you cook food, plate it, and enjoy. But throw a picky eater into the mix and mealtime becomes a breath-holding, nail-biting affair. My husband and I still marvel at the time, months ago, when our 2-year-old had a mere two minutes of loving avocado. When the time was up, mid-chew, the window slammed shut and she was instantly back to despising the green stuff. She opened her mouth and well, you can guess what ended up on the plate.
Dealing with a picky eater is stressful, frustrating, and sometimes, even demoralizing. And while I haven’t yet unlocked the key to turning my once open-minded eater back onto food, I did find one simple trick that keeps me from tearing my hair out.
Reminder: It Has Nothing To Do With You
First, it may help to know that your child’s food affinities (or lack thereof) have little to do with you. Instead, Zero to Three, a non-profit dedicated to the health and well-being of infants and toddlers, says that this phase is a typical reaction to hitting toddlerhood. The group explains that developing a more judicious palate (to be polite about it) is your child’s way of flexing their newfound agency and exercising a measure of control over their ever-changing world. When you view your dinnertime situation through this lens, it’s almost impossible to be mad about it.
So, what is the answer? As Leah Hackney RD, LD, CSP told me previously, it’s all about letting go. She explained that your job as a parent isn’t to force your child to eat a variety of foods, but rather make a variety of foods available to them. From there, you need to relinquish control, allowing them to choose what to eat and how much.
Surviving picky eating is a long game and frankly, I have neither time nor patience for that. While I will continue to offer a wide variety of foods my toddler will no-doubt refuse, I rely on this easy-peasy rule to ensure she eats something: I serve every new or supposedly detestable food alongside an old favorite.
Surviving picky eating is a long game, and frankly, I have neither time nor patience for that.
My kid loves fruit, green peas, and all things white or filled with cheese. If my husband and I are cooking up soup or pasta for our family, we’ll absolutely put a small portion of our meal on our 2-year-old’s plate. We’ll encourage her to try it, but we’ll also ensure she has one or two recognizable options as well.
Why It Works
I’ll be honest: my toddler rarely eats the family dinner we add to her plate. She’ll poke it and, if we’re lucky, taste it, but generally discards it. We will continue this exercise of exposing her to different foods. But by also providing her a few “safe” items, we majorly cut down on power struggles at the table. We also ensure she eats something, without making her feel like she can refuse dinner only to request something else. We’re not short-order cooks, after all.
I know this little trick won’t put a stop to picky eating, but it’s what works for us now. I’m hopeful that, given enough time, my toddler will find her adventurous side once more. But for now, I’m doing what the experts recommend: filling her plate and letting go.