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Picky Eaters, What to do!

I get questions quite a bit about what to do with kids who are picky eaters and just don't seem to like very many vegetables.  When you have a mostly plant based diet that can be kind of tricky.  I FOR SURE have my share of picky eaters around here;  But through the years I have learned a few things that seem to be working!  Many times people are amazed at what good eaters my kids are and will say things like,  "How do you get your kids to eat so good?" or "I hope our kids will be good eaters like that!"  I had a cousin over for dinner a while back and as we were setting the table and getting ready for dinner my kids started eating sprouts like they were cookies or something.   I told my kids, "Stop eating so many sprouts we need to save some for dinner."  My cousin looked at me funny, and I realized how "weird" that must sound.  He then said,  "I sure hope I will need to say that to my kids one day!"

Alright,  so here is what I have found has worked with my picky kids.

* Never fight with them about eating food or even trying food they don’t like before the age of 4. If they don’t like it and won’t eat what is being served they can have a piece of fruit or something just as healthy or more so. But I am NOT fixing anything else. I always offer them things again and again that I know they don’t think they like. I don’t force but I will often ask them if they would like to try it. If they say no I don’t push it.

* At the ages of about 4-8 (remember ages may vary all kids are different) I ask that they at least try what I made for dinner. One bite just at least taste it. If they find they like it, and a lot of times they do, then of course they eat it. If they claim they don’t like it some times I ask them to eat a couple of bites depending on the age and how much I could tell they didn’t like it. Or I just tell them to eat what they like that is on the table or pick out whatever is in the dish that they don’t like. Again no fighting and forcing Family meal time should be enjoyable for EVERYONE!

* By the time they are 8 they have tried lots of new things and have developed a taste for a lot of the things they thought they hated. My pickiest eater so far who is now 8 has found a lot of things he likes that he didn’t even dare try at 3. I have even noticed he will eat mushrooms in some dishes. He hated those for a very long time.

At about eight years old they like enough things that I don’t worry about them getting enough to eat and eating healthy. If the 8 and older children pick some things out that they don’t care for I don’t usually say anything. I mean they all like salad by then and eat a big plate with dinner! It’s funny though when it comes time to do the dishes all the plates are clean. ;) I think it’s the Jack Sprat nursery rhyme thing going on…..So between the family they licked the platter clean! ;) And since I know it’s all healthy I’m okay with that. I think the trick is to have even dessert be healthy! If your really tricky a lot of times dessert could potentially be better for you then the dinner.

Just the other day my husband and I watched our 3 year old horse down a big plate of leafy greens. She pretty much had never touched salad before. We would keep offering it to her and she would have a taste here and there but never really cared for it. I wasn’t concerned though because she loves green smoothies! ;) I have found if it’s not a power struggle with only good feelings abounding; They don’t connect the food to negative feelings. And if they see everyone else especially parents eating and ENJOYING good healthy food, and being offered to try;  They will keep tasting and I have found as tastes develop there are very few healthy things children don't like.  I think one of the most important things we can do is have lots of the good, more of the better, and most of the very best food options around the home.  As parents we need to be good stewards and not allow all the bad and ugly junk food into our homes!  This I believe is KEY!  Environment is everything for a child!

"Just getting a snack, Mom."

*With older kids who were fed a lot of junk food when they were young will be harder. Again I think example is HUGE! But just finding the healthy things they like and fixing it lots and then slowly expanding seems too work. I also found making lots of healthified treats, like whole grain cookies, cakes, etc. so they don’t really miss the junk food helps the transition a lot.  Read here about a friend who is finding her example is slowly working with her children that didn't start out with the Simple, Healthy, Tasty lifestyle. 

On a final note, stress, tension, and guilt DO NOT WORK!  And to be perfectly honest those things cause much more poor health then bad food does!  Example, environment, education, LOVE, harmony, and EXAMPLE (oh did I already say that;) without the stress really works the best!

Be patient, mostly with yourself and just keep trying!  I promise one day your kids will thank you and hey even your husbands too!  (But that's an entirely different post!) 


TheShippenFamily said...

Love your tips they are great, and reassuring. I have never been a big fan of forcing kids to eat. But I am a big veggie fan so luckily my kids picked up on that. I really liked your suggestion of not really pressing the issue until 8!

Jess Christensen said...

I just want to add my limited experience. My oldest is 2.5, and we've been vegetarian-ish (dairy and eggs) since she was born, and plant-based (very limited animal products, all organic free range when we do eat them) for about a year. So she's grown up with a diet very similar to Tam's. And I kid you not, I said this to her at dinner last week: "you need to have a bite of your lentils before you have more green beans." And she did. We also don't fight, but do encourage in that way. But basically, when everything on your table is nutrient dense, you don't have to worry about what they're eating. I'm not going to lie, sometimes all she eats for dinner is whole wheat bread and the fruit that we have for dessert... Not my favorite nights, but still better (more micro-nutrients) than what many of her peers are getting. That is the beauty of this lifestyle, there are only good foods to choose from. Just a testimonial of my little eater.

Tammie said...

Jess: Thanks so much for sharing! So very true!! I love that, "have a bite of lentils before you have more green beans." That sounds so familiar, my Dad still laughs and thinks it's great, that when we go to Chuck-a-Rama with them, I have to tell the kids to not eat so much fresh fruit and get some more greens! ;)

I remember when I was young and what I ate the most of at Chuck-a-Rama, I guarantee it wasn't the fresh fruit or the salad. ;)

Sounds like your little one is getting a GREAT start! Kudos to you!!!!!

Cherie said...

Loved Jess's comment too. I fill up my son's plate and before he can have seconds of anything he has to finish everything on it. Finishing is only required to get more food, and I don't fill it up with things I know (or suspect) he doesn't like, just a taste. That leads to lots of no more, beans, edamame, peas, carrots, etc. until you eat ____ . It is pretty entertaining sometimes.

heidi said...

I just found your blog and I am so inspired! I am excited to start your 8 week challenge. I have been trying to lose weight for years, and have tried so many things too with only a little weight loss. I workout almost 5 days a week almost killing myself, only to maintain my weight. Thank you for sharing this information!

Tammie said...

Heidi: I'm so glad you are inspired!! I really feel like with weight loss it's ALL about ingredients! Be sure to look at my ingredient list! Thanks so much for commenting! Please FEEL FREE to ask questions any time!!!!

Jessica said...

Thank you, those were great tips and motivation. I know I need to make the changes first, but I feel there is hope. You are amazing!

Emily said...


This is a really great post. I love how it needs to be a positive experience for all at the table, and that guilt, forcing etc don'w work. I really hope I can remember these things and keep patiently educating, and re-offering, and staying positive and loving myself over it all.

Kit Kitchell said...

I work with families on a daily basis trying to help them find ways to eat/prepare healthier meals. One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is the parent who prepares a separate meal. (You're not a short order cook!)
All that to say, I truly love what you have posted here. I say it every day, and even though my families don't always believe me, it's good to see that this advice is working in your family.
Thank you!

Krista said...

I love this as my family is starting to eat healthy I find more and more "picky" eaters but these tips are wonderful and are going to help us! Thank you so much