I have a very picky 2yr old daughter who only enjoys fruits and not so healthy food on occasion when we eat out (chicken nuggets, pizza and pbj sandwiches and turkey and cheese). She will refuse to eat majority of the stuff I cook, unless it's spaghetti or chicken of any style. She doesn't like the texture of rice or mashed potato and every now and then she would eat broccoli, but no other veggies. I want her to get the proper nutrients and also enjoy her food but I feel terrible giving her the same thing because she has to eat. I am praying that her appetite will change soon, for she will be starting pre-school with her big brother and the school has a great variety of food, but she won't eat! I can't afford to pack a lunch everyday for both kids. Please help...
From: praying momma, Boston
Dear Praying Momma,
While there's a chance this is about appetite, more likely it's about control. You're in a battle for control of her palette and you aren't going to win. I've often quoted nutritionist and family therapist Ellyn Satter who has made famous the theory of dividing the responsibility in feeding: The parent's job is to put healthy food in front of a child in age-appropriate portions; the child's job is to decide which of that food to put in his or her mouth.
It sounds like your daughter is healthy, doesn't have food allergies and, frankly, isn't all that picky. Check with your pediatrician if you have worries about her weight gain or any other aspect of her eating behavior. Assuming there are none, follow these simple rules:
1. When you prepare a meal, include at least something that you know she will eat so that she won't go hungry. If that's all she eats at any meal, let it go.
2. Don't make yourself crazy about what she eats over the course of a day. Judge her intake over the course of a week. I bet you'll be surprised that she's getting more nutrition than you thought.
3. Don't stop putting "new" foods in front of her. It takes a child a long time -- some experts say as many as 70 exposures -- before a food is no longer "new." One of these days, she may just get curious enough to put it in her mouth and discover -- magic! -- not so bad.
4. Don't pester her. If you take the "Eat this! Try this! Please try this, I know you'll like it!" dynamic out of her eating routine, you'll take away her fun. Literally. You are currently in a a game with her, you just didn't know it. If you stop playing, she has no partner. Game over. When she says "NO!" to a food, just shrug and move on. Don't engage.
5. If you have to say something, tell her, "It's my job to keep your healthy. That's why I cook this food. It's your job to decide which of it to eat."
6. Make mealtime pleasant. Eat together as a family.
For my conversation a few months ago with Ellyn Satter on how to feed a picky eater, click here.
For my original article on picky eaters, click here.
For Zero to Three's advice on how to handle picky eaters, click here.