I wish I could say with all sincerity “from really picky to not at all!” in the title, but that would be a lie.
And per rule #5 on the family chalkboard, we don’t tell lies. Also, note to self: learn how to letter in chalk. We’ll go ahead and call that a 2014 goal, since I haven’t set any yet.
We still have some fairly picky eaters in this house.
And they come by it honestly; my dad called me “Picky Nikki” for years, and I still have a few food aversions (but really, who doesn’t?). However, I mostly overcame my pickiness by high-school age, and I am SO happy that my kids are overcoming it much earlier than I did. Because life is too short not to eat good food and try new things, right?
Last weekend, I thought of a salad I used to order at a restaurant called Cheddar’s, which we don’t have in the St. Louis area. They make this awesome Grilled Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad that I love. I used to make it years ago for Matt and me for dinner sometimes, but along the way (“the way” being several years of children who don’t eat salad), it was forgotten.
I got all excited, thinking about making it for dinner. I meal-planned on Sunday (the week ALWAYS goes better when this happens), and put it on Monday night. I gave the boys a heads-up that we were having this, and the older two were actually excited. That’s the moment I realized it: we have come really, really far.
Probably 2 years ago, I started introducing very basic Romaine lettuce salads as a side at dinner. It started as a couple of bites loaded with dressing gagged down by the boys (then 8, 6 and 4ish), and turned into a regular part of our weeknight dinners over time. They all eat a side salad with a sensible amount of dressing with absolutely no problem now, but all prefer the salad fairly plain: lettuce, spinach (they do best if it’s chopped up and not whole leaves, but that’s fine), a little cheese, maybe some croutons.
We introduce lots of things like this: alongside other things they really like, with a “try a bite or two” rule. I realize there are some foods they’ll never like (Luke STILL can’t eat green beans without gagging), and that’s fine, but repeated exposure to so many things has meant expanded palates and more dinner choices for us.
Jack Henry is easily still the pickiest, but I have to say, he’ll readily try almost anything new. He doesn’t often get a new “favorite” from those tries, but we press on. Bennett is probably the most adventurous eater and frankly, has the biggest appetite…he tries things and generally likes more new things than the others. Luke isn’t far behind Bennett; a tad less adventurous, but occasionally surprising us, like asking for shrimp while on vacation last summer (I eat exactly 0 seafood; Matt loves it, so Luke ate some of Matt’s dinner a time or two).
Back to Monday night’s dinner salad, which consisted of:
Shredded parmesan cheese
Rotisserie chicken breast
Cooked rotini pasta (penne or farfalle would be fine, too)
I told the boys that I’d pile everything on their plate but not mix it up, in case they’d prefer the parts of the salad plain. The 2 older boys sampled the Caesar dressing and wanted that; Jack Henry stuck to his favorite, Zia’s. Luke and Bennett promptly mixed their salads on their plates (we have some these from Nana Jo, and we use them ALL the time! Fun, right?) and ate them like grown humans eat a salad: all mixed up. Jack Henry picked at the components of his, which is fine by me, since he ate his chicken, some of the pasta, and a good amount of lettuce/spinach.
On to Tuesday night’s dinner: soup in a bread bowl. The boys used to HATE soup, so I’ve always always served it with some kind of bread. I feel like it softens the blow of a food they don’t like, you know? Well, over time, they’ve gotten to the point of liking a couple of different soups, so I thought bread bowls would be fun. The older 2 loved it…Bennett had seconds on the soup! JH still doesn’t like soup, so he picked at the parts of his he liked, and of course, loved the bread bowl. No kid has ever loved carbs like Jack Henry, I tell you.
And Luke made a pronouncement that I’ll not likely forget: “Mom, you’re right about trying things a lot of times. What’s that called? Repeated exposure? Yeah. It really works.”
Sage parenting advice from the 11-year-old, y’all.
Tonight is steak fajita night (smart shoppers: check your grocery’s meat section for meat that needs to be sold that day…Schnucks has a marked-down section, usually 25% off, where the meat still looks great but just needs to be eaten in the next day or two or frozen immediately.). They won’t eat the vegetables on their fajitas, so they’ll have another vegetable on the side. I’m fine with that, provided they try a bite of a onion or pepper. That’s all I ask.
So if you’re out there wondering if your picky toddler will EVER eat anything normal, I tell you:
1. Stay the course. This can get better.
2. Continue to introduce new or not-favorite things. Repeat exposure is the only way this is going to work. (or, seeing a role model eat the food you want them to eat; peer pressure is a powerful thing)
3. Don’t give in just because it’s easy…you’re in charge here! Pick your battles, but your kid isn’t going to starve if he/she chooses not to eat the dinner you’re serving. You aren’t a short-order cook.
Hang in there, friends! You can do this.