The fact that my now-3-year-old son isn’t a picky eater may very well be accidental. It’s entirely possible that he’s lulling us into a false sense of accomplishment, only to have a future sibling who turns everything we know on its head — refusing to eat anything but jelly sandwiches three times per day. (Sibling high-five.)
There were very specific measures we took to try and ensure that our son Noah is more of an adventurous eater than the no-food-can-be-touching-my-God-get-this-green-stuff-away-from-me eater. And regardless of the outcome, I think they’re all steps toward healthy eating habits — which is worth discussing, regardless. (So much so that I’m risking the chances of jinxing myself, and Noah will wake up in the morning and refuse to eat anything with color.)
So here goes. 10 things I did that (maybe, possibly, hopefully) helped Noah not be super picky with his food:
1. We never limited his exposure to different foods
Of course we followed the recommended introduction charts when he started eating solids, but we never just assumed that he wouldn’t like something — and we still don’t today.
We also don’t stick to the “children’s menu” when we go to restaurants, considering they’re typically (always?) so limiting. I often offer to split my meal with him now that he’s old enough, although he sometimes opts for the more classic children’s menu choice. (But he always chooses a vegetable without me asking — so score.)
2. We have a “just try it” rule in the house
I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been enforcing this rule from the beginning or just because he’s inherently more adventurous with his food choices, but the “just try it” rule seems to help. He knows that he just has to take a bite and then, if he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to eat more. But more often than not, he finds out that he actually does like it. We try to be real cool about it so it doesn’t feel like a strict “rule,” but rather just a normal part of life.
(Hint: The book Green Eggs and Ham helps.)
3. If he doesn’t like something, we don’t push it
Luckily my son gets enough nutrients, so I know that a day of mousy eating isn’t the end of the world. We don’t have a Clean Plate Club in our house, mostly because I’d rather he listen to his body’s cues than arbitrary portion sizes. But there really are foods that he doesn’t like — tomatoes, for one — and he’s entitled to his opinions.
4. If he doesn’t like something, that doesn’t mean it disappears
Just because he doesn’t like tomatoes and avocados doesn’t mean that he doesn’t still get casually offered tomatoes and avocados. One day he might say “yes.”
5. We let him know that his taste buds will change
And now he’ll say, “I’ll like it one day when I’m bigger, Mommy,” after trying something unappetizing. And I know that he will probably like it eventually — considering his dislike of Apple Cider donuts, avocados, and cinnamon-coating anything goes against human nature. In fact, his taste buds have changed already — such as with a formerly forbidden food known as Pinnochie (gnocchi), which is now a dinnertime favorite. (Because, hello, gnocchi.) I like him to know that it’s OK to change his mind without feeling like he has to stubbornly cling to his food aversions.
6. He’s involved in the food process
If we’re at the store shopping for dinner, he gets to pick out the vegetable for the night. I involve him in the meal planning along the way, too, which I think helps him feel more involved with his food. And he loves helping Mommy and Daddy cook — so much that he wants to own a restaurant when he grows up. (Note that he wants to simply own the restaurant; Daddy is still going to be the head chef.)
7. We strive for COLOR
Noah knows that his plate should be as colorful as possible — which encourages him to reach for nutrient-packed bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, squash, and other brightly hued side dishes.
8. We don’t make him a special “kids” meal
If he doesn’t like what we’re having for dinner, then he doesn’t have to eat dinner.
9. We eat healthy foods, too
Noah sees Mom and Dad with veggies on our plates (that we actually eat) and reasonable portions. We choose salads over fries at restaurants — not because we have to, but because salads are yummy. We make the food choices that we’d like him to make, and we’re openly adventurous about trying new foods. Kids are looking to us for a sense of what’s normal, so modeling a healthy attitude starts with what we’re putting in our mouths, not with the words that are coming out.
10. We’re consistent
I know that the other shoe might drop any day (tomorrow, even) and he could turn into a mac-and-cheese-around-the-clock type of a kid. And if that’s true, I’ll know that it isn’t my fault — yet I’ll still continue doing exactly what I’ve been doing. Only because I think it’s the healthiest approach for the healthiest attitude toward food.