Dear Is This Normal,

My older children were great early eaters as toddlers. Now that they’re 8yrs old and 5yrs old they are both VERY picky. It drives my husband and me insane and we’re not sure how to handle it. They don’t want to eat their veggies, they don’t want to try new things and our 8yr old is always too full to finish dinner but has room for dessert. HELP!! 

Signed, 
Food Fight

Dear Food Fight,

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Kids’ tastes and preferences change, and you can’t really gauge what their eating habits are going to be later in life. 

It might be helpful to keep in mind that your picky eaters not wanting to try new things or eat their veggies could be an assertion of independence. It could also be just a little phase they’re going through together. Remember, even though they’re individuals, they’re siblings. So they probably understand how power in numbers works. It’s not unheard of for the younger child to mirror or mimic what big brother or sister is doing.

The good news is, this is likely just a phase, and they will eventually outgrow it. Until they do, you want to make sure you’re approaching this in the best way possible. 

As much as you want to fight with them over what they eat—or assert your own authority and force them to eat—I would strongly caution against it. Will they sit at the table and dutifully eat three bites under your watchful eye? Sure. Will that create a lot of mixed feelings about food and their relationship with food, and create some unnecessary hostility in your relationship? Damn right it will. So don’t make food or meal times a battle, and don’t use punishment, pressure, or anger to get your way. 

On the flip side of that, don’t use rewards or bribes to get your way either. You mention your 8 year old always has room for dessert.  But if they’re not eating nutritious food, dessert shouldn’t even be on the table! And they CERTAINLY shouldn’t be getting it after not eating their dinner. If they’re hungry enough for dessert, they were hungry enough for dinner, and they’ll be even hungrier at breakfast! Take away? Don’t take away dessert as a punishment, but also make sure its not necessarily the reward, either.

Until they outgrow this current food stage, there are some things you can do to make meal time easier, and even entice your kids to broaden their horizons and try new foods. Like I mentioned earlier, don’t force your kids to eat. At these ages, it’s important for them to learn when they’re full by listening to their bodies’ cues. You don’t want to teach them to ignore or override those cues. Make their portions smaller, and if they want more, they’ll ask for it. 

Include foods that you know they will eat, as well as one food you want them to try. They’ll be more likely to try the new food/veggie if they have familiar foods on their plate. But don’t turn yourself into a short-order cook. One family, one meal, no exceptions (allowing for allergies or special diets, of course). If you start making meals for fussy kids, you’ll set a REALLY hard precedent to break down the road. 

It can also help to give your kids more control over the foods that end up on their plates. Take them shopping with you, let them explore different produce or meats or grains, and allow each child to pick out one new thing to make for dinner. Then get them in the kitchen with you and let them help! 

Another big help is to stick with a routine when it comes to meal times: same time (ish) everyday, no distractions, just a quiet family meal. Finally, don’t be afraid to get creative in the kitchen when it comes to new foods and veggies. Put veggies in things they wouldn’t expect to have them, and highlight how versatile foods can be when you think outside the box. 

But the biggest piece of advice I have for you is to just be patient. I know that’s frustrating to hear. We hear it so much when it comes to kids! But they move in and out of phases like this all the time. And when it comes to food in particular, patience is key. It can take kids, even older kids, 8-10 tries of a new food before they actually deem it acceptable to eat. Try to keep your cool and just continue introducing new foods and making food exciting and fun. They’ll come around eventually. My older sister lived on buttered pasta between the ages of 9-13, and now her favorite food is sea urchin. They’ll come around, when they’re ready. 

Make Dinner, Not War,
Is This Normal

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