So your four year old won’t eat anything but cheese and crackers? Your six year old hates anything with a sauce on it. Your eight year old won’t let his lips touch a vegetable if his life depended on it. What do you do? You’re trying to be a good parent and provide nutritious meals to your growing children but it’s getting more and more challenging.

As a parenting coach I frequently get asked how to deal with a picky eater. I first need to qualify my response and say that I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician so my knowledge of nutrition is based only on what I read in books and magazine articles. Here in Canada we try to follow “Canada’s Food Guide”.

My approach to the problem of a picky eater is from the perspective of an educator and coach. What I know is that children find ways to exercise power and control and one of the best ways is through food. I also know their tastes change all the time so what they might love one week, they’ll refuse to eat the next week and what they once said they hated, they’ll suddenly start to like. I’m also aware that when we feel pressured to do anything, our natural response is to resist and children are no different.

For the most part, my children were not what would be described as “picky” when it came to food although my son knew what he liked and when he found what he liked he stuck to it. The only thing he wanted in his lunch kit while he was in elementary school was a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Except for once a week when I would put alphabet spaghetti in a thermos for him, he ate peanut butter and jam sandwiches everyday for lunch during elementary school. That would be seven years! My objective as a parent was to ensure that whatever I gave him he ate as he absolutely had to have some nourishment half way through the day. I made sure I packed juice that was 100% juice rather than a fruit “beverage” or “drink” so he got vitamins from the fruit and I baked a lot so he usually had some kind of home-baking along with his juice and sandwich. I tried to make things that had healthy ingredients. He’s now seventeen and eats a variety of foods; a lot of it he prepares himself. He gradually expands his repertoire every few months. Last week he even made himself a fruit salad to bring to work.

Parents usually find if they acquiesce and focus on what their kids like to eat rather than what they won’t eat, they eventually come around and begin to try new foods. If getting your kids to eat certain foods becomes a constant battle ground, you’ll find that almost always, they will win. It’s very difficult to force food through tightly sealed lips.

There are a variety of ways we can sneak nutrition into our kids’ diet. I coached a mom once who was challenged by her toddler’s picking eating so I asked her what he liked to eat and together we came up with a list of different ways she could offer his favorite foods. For example she told me he loved to dip his food so we thought of all the things he could dip. He also really liked yogurt so we decided we could make yogurt a dip. We also thought why not let him dip strips of chicken into a tomato sauce. I assured her that his restricted palate was not going to be this way forever and he was more likely to branch out with his food once she relaxed about it. So what if he was eating the same things everyday for several weeks or even months. It’s a way he can control his world right now and the more she fought it, the more likely he was going to resist.

What do you do when your kids get older and won’t eat what’s put in front of them? You are not a short order cook and if you decide you are, they will have you preparing special order food every night. Once you’ve tried your best to prepare something most of the family enjoys, that’s all you can do. Teach your picky eater how to prepare simple meals and let her make her own dinner as well as clean up after herself if she doesn’t like what you’ve prepared.

Author's Bio: 

Barbara Desmarais is a parenting and life coach and has workshed with children and families for over 30 years. She offers private coaching over the telephone as is frequently called upon to present live workshops on topics related to parenting. She is a regular contributor to Canada's leading parenting magazine, "Today's Parent".