Tips for Picky Eaters

I was one of those people who was never going to have picky eaters.

Well, I do.  For the past several months I could expect two things each night at dinnertime: my 3-year-old coming to the table with the statement, "I don't like this stuff" (not even knowing what "this stuff" was) and a full-blown tantrum from my 7-year-old.  So, when I heard about the book French Kids Eat Everything, I knew I wanted to read it.

I am pleased to announce for the last month we have had almost no complaints at the dinner table!  We incorporated only a few of the "rules" from the book, but it's made an amazing difference.

#1 - Let Them Cook

Maybe some mom's don't like their kids in the kitchen, but I love it! Actually, I just hate being in the kitchen alone so they always were.  Once the three oldest started school full-time, however, I stopped asking for their help.  In the back of my mind I just assumed the younger three would take their places in the kitchen, but I never expected it so they didn't come.

So, the first change we implemented in our family was that the younger boys would help me cook while the big kids took dishes duty.  The very first night of this we made Chicken Enchilada Soup.  During dinner the boys talked about the flavors, the spices we used, and how yummy it was. My daughter commented, "It's like the boys became food experts or something."  Success!

I began to think, maybe having the kids help in the kitchen made them less afraid of the food they were eating.  We're still learning.  There have some some things they haven't liked and they express frustration when they can't "cook right,"  but the habit is being formed and this has minimized at least one barrier of our food challenges.

#2 - Take Away the Battle

I talked about my own attitude here.  Changing my attitude (and taking lessons from the French), helped me rephrase things I would say about food.  Again, when the older kids were younger I could say, "Eat it, or else."  It worked then.  Doesn't work now!  So, I needed to change how I spoke about food and the expectations I had for them.  These phrases have largely taken away the battle for my most picky eater:

Son: "Do I have to eat this?"
Parent: "Just one bite."

Son:  "I don't like this."
Parent: "That's okay, you'll like it when you're older."

Son: "I don't like this."
Parent: "That's okay, you just haven't tried it enough times."

Son: "I'm hungry."
Parent: "Great!  You're really going to enjoy dinner in an hour."

#3 - Slow Dinner Night

The French Eat Slow. Americans don't.  The starkest difference can be seen in our schools.  Where our kids have fifteen minutes to "shovel it in," the French give their kids one whole hour to eat their lunches.  Kids there are simply trained to eat slow.  Meals are treated like the most important parts of the day!  I wanted more of that in my own home, so we have incorporated "Slow Dinner Night."

 I've always had the dream of dinner being an "event," something that lasts an hour long and is fun!  Just like the French!  :-)  Our Slow Dinner Night consists of three courses:  a vegetable-based soup, a main dish, and a dessert.  I also put a question in the middle of the table or use a writing prompts book I've got on hand as our discussion topic.  Having a focused topic helps us to sit longer.  Granted, the conversation roams and it's definitely not something I force, but it's there in case we need it.  Anyway, we have turned our Monday night dinner from a 20-minute rush to a 40-minute, mostly pleasant event (we've got a 50/50 success rate at this point, but the habit is being I tell myself).

A few tips to consider: 
** I've learned that on Slow Dinner night I need to serve what I know they like, at least the main course.  Our 2nd meal backfired on me!  We don't want them to dread the event.  :-) 

** This may be a little hard for little boys.'s a little difficult for MY little boys to sit there that long.  I'm okay letting them roam a little.  But last week we also played a "Story Cube" game when I saw them getting a bat antsy.  They loved it! 

Overall, this has been, if nothing else, a very fun experiment!  I still have days I'm not entirely thrilled to be cooking, but fewer than not.  And my boys are becoming happy eaters.  As Karen Le Billon says, "The table should be the happiest place in the house!."


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