Take a good long look at this photo. Actually, you probably don't really need to. I'm betting that anyone reading this who is a parent has seen this face before. I'd even go so far to say that even the non-parents have seen this face.
In all fairness, I can admit that whatever was in that bowl would probably make my face do the exact same thing. I really don't blame the poor guy. This particular day, we tried out the "green stuff".
I can only assume the green stuff consists of spinach, peas, green beans, peas, and probably some peas. This was at a time when he was actually eating a variety of baby foods. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, life was good.
Then out of nowhere, he developed an opinion! I don't know when it happened or where it came from, but it hit us like a ton of bricks. Both Danae and her mother are very picky eaters, so it really shouldn't have come to us as a surprise that our son received this beloved trait as well.
So what are new parents to do when your child decides that they just no longer want to eat the good nutritional things that their parents put in front of them?
1. Take a look at your child's characteristics
Everywhere I look, I see helpful suggestions on how to create the perfect snacks that picky eaters will come crawling back for more. Cut them into unique shapes, give them a wide variety of options to choose from, present them on a shiny plate complete with soothing ocean sounds and interactive cartoon characters. Our problem here was that 1. We don't have the time, nor the energy to offer a smorgasbord of options every single night. 2. Emerson was so picky that every time we tried a new food, we could not get it into his mouth.
What we noticed is that Emerson is a very visual eater. He will watch every single bite you put into his mouth. If you try to swap out his food with something different, he'll immediately go into full lock down.
He is also very physically active. He runs all over the place, tosses toys, loves to dive onto pillows, roll around on the ground, and even pull down our bar stools. Eventually we started feeding things to him that he could actually feed himself or else we'd "help". He'll want to take half a sandwich and shove it into his mouth. He'll want to put his hand on the spoon that we're using, and guide it into his mouth. Finally, something we could work with.
So take a look at your child's personality. Are they completely engrossed in moving objects and sounds? Maybe the ol' fashioned airplane or spoon train will do the trick. Is your child extremely independent and wants to do everything themselves? Maybe offer little finger foods they can feed themselves.
Our children are so different from each other so it makes sense that what works for one family, will more than likely not work for another. Don't lose your sanity trying to make "the only way to do something" work. Sometimes it just won't, and that's okay. At the end of the day, I'm thankful that my child eats. It might not always be the healthiest and he might not always come out of it squeaky clean, but he goes to bed with his belly full.
2. Propriety goes out the window
Toddlers do not understand the order of society. They understand, "I want this. I don't want this". Over time, they'll learn by repetition and example. We have this grandiose picture of the whole family sitting around the dinner table at 5pm on the dot, enjoying dinner together as a family. Don't give up on that vision! It just might not be that season of life quite yet.
Dinner time in our house varies. We try to keep things in as much of a routine as possible, yet at the same time, we don't beat ourselves up if he just will not eat anything. Occasionally, we'll get him out of his chair and let him run around for a bit. He usually does not run off much farther than the dining room (where we're eating). He wants to be where the action is, but most times he'll return for a few more bites.
We also don't try to be firmly set on what he'll be eating for dinner. We try one thing and hope he'll take it, we'll give it several valiant efforts, but he's also getting the point where he'll actually point out what he wants. This is huge for us. "Oh, you're thirsty.." Did I mention we're still new at this?
3. Pick your battles
The questions will soon become, "So how much do I want to push my child to eat what I put in front of them?" Well, it depends. I think if it becomes a habit for you to constantly swap out whatever he/she doesn't want to eat with something else, eventually they'll catch on. They'll quickly learn that if they don't like something, mommy and daddy will cave and give me something they know I like. Good luck getting them to try new things. We began falling into that trap.
It's difficult for me because I want to explain the situation to Emerson. I want to teach him and help him understand, get him to make decisions based on the options I provide him, but he's not quite at the age yet where a discussion is going to go very far.
So we have to pick our battles. Take into consideration: did he nap well today? Has he been extra fussy or clingy leading up to dinner? Has today been an all around good day? These types of things can effect the end result of dinner time. You know your child and how they act. Maybe tonight isn't the best night to introduce the lobster frittata.
4. Ketchup = sweet nectar of the gods
When all else fails, try adding ketchup. I don't know what it is about ketchup, but our pickiest of picky eaters loves the stuff. Maybe it'll work for you too. And it's not just the ketchup, but the fact he gets to dip his food himself. Earlier I said that propriety goes out the window, well so does the preconceived notions of what we know to go well with ketchup. Guess what Emerson would tell you goes great with ketchup? Green beans and carrots! We just figured that one out yesterday. But you know what? I do not care, at least he's eating vegetables. And THAT is a big win in our house.
The bottom line here is that you cannot beat yourself up if your child is a picky eater. Just keep trying, don't give up, but also understand that it's just fine to let some things go. I'd rather teach my son to be able to roll with the punches then grow up learning that things have to be done one way and one way only.