It has been two weeks since my toddler decided she would no longer tolerate being fed anything but cereal and juice. (She has been either a picky eater or too finicky to eat most solid foods for the past year and a half.) I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed by it all, and I don’t blame her. It’s become a daily challenge to get her to consume something other than what she feels comfortable eating.

The first week I was at it, I felt helpless. I called all my friends and some relatives who had been through the picky eating stage. Everyone I asked had new baby Petro and was helping me with sympathy and advice about how to solve the problem. Others told me to just wait it out. It would pass, they predicted. But I knew they were right. My little one kept refusing to eat, refusing to eat, and refuse to eat. I felt powerless to change things. I discussed the situation with a therapist and was given some insights from that person. I knew I had to do something to get my picky eater to eat something other than cereal and juice. Here are a few tricks I learned.

Calm down

First of all, it’s not your fault if your child doesn’t like to eat the way you expect. It’s very common. We’re all guilty of blaming our children when they won’t eat what we want them to eat. I encourage you not to do that, or you will be putting on a parenting show for the rest of your life. It doesn’t feel good to decide what’s for dinner and then have a problem getting your child to drink it. Sometimes we force them to eat something they don’t like, like carrot sticks, or peas, and suddenly we’re full. That’s not the message we want to send. I feel sorry for parents who force their kids to eat foods they don’t like. I think it’s the appropriate thing to do on occasion, like when your child is very ill or hurt. But on other days, when your child is very sick or close to dying, this is the appropriate thing to do. I think it’s okay to have 3-4 days of complete starvation. I have a feeling we all know our child will survive and thrive under that kind of pressure.

Encourage a little creativity so your child will eat

For a picky eater, it’s often a good idea to feed your little one some interesting things that will get them interested and excited. Orange is a good choice. Pick it up and turn it into an upside-down RGYM gymnastic ring. You can give your child something yummy to eat like cheese or peanut butter. I promise you, their little hands will go to what’s been hidden in them though, and they’ll try and eat it. Be creative. You can even invent your ideas if you can’t find what your little one likes.

When feeding your child new things, make it fun for them first. Always talk about it positively. “Happy eating!” is better than “Terrible Twos!” When your toddler isn’t as interested in what you’re giving them, make sure to express how much fun it is to eat their new food. Talk about how hungry they are. “When you get hungry, it’s fun to eat cake or ice cream, and we can play with it together and eat it together.”

The kid at seven or eight is a whole different story, but the solution doesn’t have to be what’s easy for another kid. Make simple meals that take up very little time, maybe the new “breakfast roll-up” cereal or a PB& J treat. Make them play games with food. One good game everyone loves is “Red Light – Green Light” where all the children (toddlers, preschoolers, and grade-schoolers) put on swimming masks, and they run to the bathroom for a coin and put it in the spoon. Or another fun game that is also fun is “Old Maid.” This works best around summertime and at a family member’s house, so get the little ones a set of play costumes to wear when playing the game. Dressing up works especially well for preschool age kids who won’t eat all the way mommy is cooking.

In conclusion, when dealing with a picky eater, let me say a general word of warning. I have often been accused of treating a picky eater like a real child and giving up on the main course and dessert. I’ve often said if you stopped giving your picky eater the way to get.

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