My 5-year-old son has been very picky about food since he was 2. He had about a 9-month-long moment as a toddler where he was willing to eat a decent variety of foods. But as his second birthday was approaching, something changed. Suddenly he was rejecting tons of things, some of which he used to gladly eat.
My husband became especially concerned, because he’s picky about lots of foods and didn’t want our son to be the same way. I would reach out to other parents hoping for some good advice, but unfortunately, I heard a lot of “they won’t starve” and “if you don’t offer anything else they’ll eventually eat it, even if it’s hours later.” What?! That sounded crazy to me.
The Mayhem of a Hungry Toddler
Have they ever hung out with a hungry toddler? It’s not fun. I’m supposed to let him just be hungry, even if it takes hours, until he finally surrenders to the meal I prepared? Although my gut instinct told me otherwise, I decided to try that method for a while. It was a disaster!
I distinctly remember one time where I sat at the table with him (when he was 3) for an hour waiting on him to eat what I offered. He never ate it.
We’ve had dinner table drama, galore. We’ve threatened that he would be in trouble if he didn’t eat. We’ve even bribed him. It’s SO EXHAUSTING! This ridiculousness occurred on and off for over 2 years. Many meals were pleasant, because we were eating something he liked, but anytime we would try to get him to eat something that wasn’t on his short list of approved foods, there was trouble.
Over time I began realizing that my initial gut instinct was right. It was crazy to think I could successfully use the starvation method with a toddler and win every time. He was too young to completely understand how to handle it. Plus, we’ve got crap to do, people! I couldn’t afford to give up an hour every night to sit and try to force my toddler to eat and I certainly couldn’t let him get hungry!
We had places to go and things to do. Who wants to go to the grocery store or post office with a hungry toddler? No, thanks.
The Silly Measures
So we began to back off on the extreme measures and stopped worrying so much that he was close-minded about food. I started using silliness to help out (talking food wanting to go to the party in his tummy). And, you know what? He’s gotten better.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s still picky, and it didn’t happen magically over night. But progress has definitely been made. He even said, “More steak, please” the other night, for God’s sake. I just about fell out of my chair. He ate steak?! And liked it?! Wow!
4 Helpful Tips for Getting Picky Eaters to Eat
So, you’ve got a picky eater? Here’s my advice to you.
- Stay calm
- Offer new foods, but don’t freak out when they reject them over and over (and over and over)
- Always include an item on their plate that you know they like
- If there’s a meal or two they love, keep them in your regular rotation so they don’t begin to dislike dinner time.
They will get better. I swear.
It might literally take a couple of years for them to make major changes.
Sometimes they like the idea of saving the best for last!
Some kiddos might respond well to the “Stand Your Ground Method,” but mine certainly didn’t. He’s sensitive and has always done better with love and hugs than with tough words and threats. If this sounds like your little one, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.
Just because you don’t have the sushi-eating preschooler you dreamed of having, doesn’t mean it will never happen. It just might not happen as early as you’d hoped. Focus on enjoying your little person while they’re still little, and all the rest will gradually fall into place.