Family,  Food

How to Cope with a Picky Eater

When Bash hit 6 months old, we decided it was time to introduce him to solid foods. He’s always been exclusively breastfed, but for a good month he had been swiping food off our plates, watching intently while we ate, and sitting unassisted. Any article you look up will say those are signs your baby is ready for first foods.

So, like any good millennial mom, I spent a few hours on Pinterest and Google to see how we should proceed. What if I mess this up and he spends the next 10 years living off of fish sticks and chicken nuggets? Oh, the horror.

After doing my research, we opted to go for Baby-led Weaning. It seemed the most practical and made the most sense for Bash’s development. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, all this means is that we opted to choose whole foods like vegetables/fruit for his first foods, cut them to appropriate sizes, and let Bash feed himself.

If we went this route, we didn’t have to spend money on buying purees or time on making them ourselves. And we wouldn’t spend the next 6 months taking turns eating and feeding the baby. PLUS, he’d gain valuable motor skills (like a pincer grasp and chewing) on top of developing a more varied palate, so that he wouldn’t be picky later. I mean, it seemed like a no-brainer if we made sure to do it appropriately.

I even spent time researching what we should be feeding him first. Would banana be a good choice? Maybe not, he might like it too much and then only eat sweet things. What about carrots? Hm, might still be too sweet.

Eventually, I landed on avocado. The perfect first food: not sweet, plenty soft for a baby with 4 teeth, and very healthy. I was really very good at this whole parenting thing.

I put him in his high chair, wrapped a bib around his neck, and let him go to town. I tried not to have too high of expectations because I’d read that it might take him a few months to get the hang of it or actually get some food in his mouth. So, when he spent most of that meal playing with the avocado, I didn’t worry.

Disclaimer: This post uses some affiliate links. They may pay us a commission if you buy something using our link. Also, I linked the items for reference. I do not usually pay these exact amounts at local grocery stores where I shop.

But, then 5 months passed and he still was eating nothing. Literally would balk every time any food came near his mouth.

I was following all the rules. Putting him in his chair with food while we had meals. Offering him appropriate foods (like steamed apples, carrots, bananas, sweet potatoes, green beans, etc.) prepared the correct way (either big long sticks or pieces smaller than the size of my pinky nail).

When he was old enough, I gave him what we were eating. We tried the puree pouches (his best friend Arwen loved these), eggs, chicken, cheese; you name it we tried it.

Then I stopped trying to follow the rules. I tried baby oat cereal in his bottles (Kyle had bottles of breastmilk for him while I was at school teaching). I tried the traditional puree route (he liked that even less than the Baby Led Weaning route). Y’all, I tried candy. I tried freakin’ ice cream and cake. I thought maybe it was a texture thing? If I could just get him to eat something, then he might decide to try healthy stuff, too?

Finally, after a little convincing him, he got to where he would eat those creamies from the baby food isle. But that was it. At 11 months old, he was still pretty much exclusively breastfeed with very little solids.

Then, one day when he was 11 months old, he just started trying the foods we gave him. It was like a switch flipped. He would eat some of most of the things I offered him. He started having favorite foods.

But, he still wouldn’t eat very much. I tried not to grow resentful when I would see videos of friends’ babies going to town and putting away all kinds of foods at 7 or 8 months old.

And, a lot of times, he was still mysteriously picky, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

Now, at 18 months old, he is still pretty picky. He’s not the worst eater I’ve ever encountered, but getting him to eat is a struggle a lot of times. I never truly know if he will eat what I’m offering him.

He still won’t touch ANY fresh fruit or a puree pouch. No strawberries. No melon. No apples. No bananas (probably the only toddler in existence that hates bananas).

That magical window where they’ll supposedly eat anything? All the articles say that’s typically from 6-12 months. Yeah, Bash skipped that stage I guess.

So, to help out any mom who’s where I am or have been, here’s some things I’ve learned about having a picky eater.

1) Keep offering your child foods they’ve rejected.

Just because they didn’t want it before, doesn’t mean that will still be true the next day. Kids change SO MUCH as they develop and mature. It literally happens overnight sometimes. It can take offering the same food 15 or 20 times before your child will decide to eat it.

Everyone’s taste buds change as they age. I used to loathe tomatoes. But now, I like them! I hated rice as a kid. But when I became a teenager, I decided to give it another shot and realized it’s actually pretty good. Just because your kids don’t like it now doesn’t mean it’s off-the-table forever. This is why it’s important to keep offering it over and over again.

2) Switch up how you prepare foods.

Maybe they don’t like raw tomatoes, but they like cooked tomatoes. Steamed apples might be a no-go, but maybe they like them raw! Remember rules for safe eating (cut up foods to appropriate sizes, watch sodium levels, don’t leave them alone when they are eating, make sure you know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver in the event of choking).

But otherwise, have fun! Eating foods can be fun; and remember, you don’t necessarily like certain foods when prepared certain ways. For example, I’m not a fan of sunny-side up eggs, but scrambled or boiled is awesome. Your baby is a person, too; they are allowed to have preferences on how their food is prepared.

3) Model correct eating.

Want your kids to eat green vegetables or fruit? Especially once they reach toddlerhood, they become little copycats. Monkey see monkey do, right? They want to be like you, and if you aren’t eating broccoli, then they won’t want to either.

I chose to treat this as good motivation to clean up mine and Kyle’s eating habits. We weren’t bad before, but I know that Bash rejects all food that isn’t crackers if I give him one, and if he sees me eating crackers with my meal, that’s ALL he wants to eat. So, take this opportunity to improve your eating habits as well.

This is where, as soon as they are old enough, you should start serving them the same meals you’re eating. Don’t prepare them their own special meal. Not only is that more work for you, but you’re missing out on the whole advantage that comes with your kids repeating everything you do. Take advantage of your little sponges and get them to eat healthy food because you’re eating it, too.

4) Sneak in missing nutrition.

For us, this is a multivitamin we bought at the natural pharmacy attached to our pediatrician’s office. His iron tested low at his 15 month appointment, so we give him a dose of this vitamin on the days he doesn’t have red meat.

Also, we are still breastfeeding a couple times a day. I feel better about knowing he isn’t eating ALL the food groups because I know he’s getting lots of good stuff from my breastmilk.

In addition to both of these, I recently found a few awesome brands of “kid” foods at Target. These Mini-Meatballs, chicken nuggets, and fish sticks are awesome. They sneak some veggies into them, but you can’t even taste it! Heck, I like to eat these, too. They’re delicious.

You can also try and disguise healthy things with better tasting foods. This hasn’t worked for Bash (he’s not easily fooled), but I know some people can sometimes throw in some good stuff with their mac n’ cheese or sandwich, and their kids won’t even know.

5) Timing matters.

If Bash snacks all day, I can hardly blame him when he won’t touch his meal. He simply isn’t hungry. Kids are naturally pretty good at monitoring their food intake. So, my first step to get him to eat his meals is to make sure I don’t let him snack all day. If we’re only an hour or 2 away from lunch/dinner, I hold him off. Yes, sometimes there are fits. We’ll both survive them, though. And he’ll be better for it.

When he’s refusing to eat something, I give him some time while we all eat together at the table to make sure he really doesn’t want to eat, then I put it aside (or in the fridge) for later. When he asks to eat later, the first thing I offer him is the meal he rejected earlier. The number of times he was willing to eat something he rejected an hour ago is surprising!

6) Avoid processed and sugary foods

The reality about processed “toddler” foods is that they are very addictive, even for us adults. That’s how I can destroy a bag of chips in one sitting. If adults can’t resist, how is a toddler (who has little-to-no impulse control in general) supposed to resist? Getting the right nutrition for your baby/toddler now is so important. Did you know that, between conception and age three, a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change. At birth, it already has about all of the neurons it will ever have. It doubles in size in the first year, and by age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume). If the brain isn’t being fueled properly, just think about the long-term effects that can have. 80% of adults’ brains are grown before they’re 3.

Now, Bash loves bread. In any and all forms. Crackers. Toast. Sliced bread. Tortillas. Rolls. Buns. Muffins. Croissants. We learned very quickly not to offer him any bread until he’s eaten enough of the healthy things on his plate because, after he’s had bread, that is all he wants to eat at that moment and he can’t be convinced otherwise.

However, one of the meals or snacks I’ll sometimes grab for Bash (after I’ve tried vegetables or fruit and been rejected), is to grab a slice of Sprouted Whole Grain bread (Aldi has it for such an affordable price!) and spread either avocado or non-junk (sugar free) peanut butter on it.

He will eat just about anything if it’s on bread. Avocado is a no-go for him unless it’s on bread. And I don’t feel bad about giving him the slice of bread because the sprouted version has some nutritional value, unlike regular processed bread. We are lucky in that our house doesn’t have any food allergies or food sensitivities. I don’t have to keep him away from nut butters or gluten, and as long as I don’t rely on it too much, it’s not bad for him.

We also don’t give Bash anything in his cup other than unsweetened almond milk or water. Thankfully, he loves water. Sometimes, I’ll try and sneak some vitamins in by putting a slice of lemon in his water. But he’s never had a soda. Never had juice. Never even had normal cow milk (I mean, we’re still nursing and our pediatrician doesn’t think he really needs cow milk). That won’t last forever, but while I have control over that, he is better off without having ever tasted any it.

Bash also loves crunchy, thin food. I capitalize on this by offering nuts, vegetable chips, granola, uncured bacon, coconut oil popcorn, unsweetened banana chips, and anything else I can think of that is cracker crunchy and has nutritional value. I could offer him goldfish, or regular potato chips, or sugary granola bars (that are candy bars in disguise). But I know these offer him virtually no nutritional value. Since he’s picky about what he eats, I capitalize on what he does eat and make it pack as much punch as I can muster.

I don’t want you to come away from this post thinking that my picky toddler only eats healthy food. The reality is that I just do my best, like everyone else. We eat mac n’ cheese. It’s organic mac n’ cheese, but mac n’ cheese all the same. At his first birthday, he had a normal cupcake. Well, sort of. He was still in the barely-eating stage, so he only ate a few bites (that took some convincing).

Our bacon and lunch meats, while uncured, are not sugar-free. One of Bash’s favorite foods is plain cheerios. He eats them just about every day (I mean, I try to sneak better things in with them like dried blueberries and banana chips, but it’s still just plain cheerios). Since the only fruit he’ll eat is dried fruits (usually in the form of a larabar), he eats that sugary dried fruit.

Despite following all the rules, I still ended up with a picky eater. First time parents? Just go ahead and accept that you don’t have nearly the control that you think you’ll have (and that they’ll tell you you have). Maybe you’ll get lucky like Jessy and have an Arwen, who will literally just eat cucumbers for lunch. Orrrrr….maybe you’ll get a Bash. A baby that has to be cajoled and convinced to eat just about everything.

I can’t win all the battles, so I pick the ones that matter most to me. I know that, when he’s older, I can do other things to encourage healthy eating. All is not lost.

Or so they say.

Written by Becca

Do you have a picky eater? What do you do in your house to encourage healthy eating?

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Jess & Becca