Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How I got my daughter to eat dinner

my daughter's plate

My five year old daughter is pickier than most picky eaters.  She could subsist on crackers, cheerios, cheese and milk alone if I let her.  But now that she is getting older, I am trying to figure out ways to get her to eat a bit healthier without it turning into what at times has seemed like an inevitable battle at every meal.  My steadfast rule has always been that as long as I get her to eat a small amount of produce first, she can have whatever she wants within healthy limits (cereal, crackers, yogurt, cheese, etc...). But this is drastically limiting her palate.  When we go out to eat anywhere all she ever orders is a plain cheese sandwich (not grilled!) and it is getting a bit embarrassing.

I have heard all the different tips about getting kids to eat healthfully: model good behavior (always), incorporate the produce into a main meal so they don't notice it as readily (doesn't often work with main meals, although it seems to work when I also include chocolate, as in a muffin with zucchini and chocolate)... I know food should never be a battle and that dinnertime should be a peaceful time for the family to gather and share, but when she comes to the table and sees anything other than crackers, cheese, a carrot stick or cherry tomato or two, or a bowl of yogurt, she screams.  I mean screams.  She is willful, smart, and knows what she likes, but I know that meal times have become frustrating for her as well.

Knowing I was frustrated, my mom sent me an article a few weeks ago that mentioned having your picky eater try "one teaspoon" of every food offered at the meal and once they have eaten that, they can have more of any of the foods that they happen to like.  The trick is to make sure that at least one of those foods is something you know they do like (obviously).  I thought I had tried this method before, but perhaps not so precisely and considering I have gotten into the habit of making more elaborate, spicy, exotic meals for my husband and I which my son will usually at least try, I had almost given up on trying to get my daughter to eat even "normal" dinner foods.

To my great joy, my daughter has also turned into a very aware vegetarian.  Her being picky, and me not serving or eating very much meat myself, I think I can count on one hand the amount of times she has consumed even a morsel of chicken or beef in her whole life.  Now that she is older and I am making my family more aware all the time of what they are eating, she has gotten into the habit of asking whether something she has been served or something that I am eating was at one time an animal.  She has told me outright that she never wants to eat animals because she "likes them to be happy and alive."  I can't argue with that and I have promised her that I will never ask her or trick her into eating an animal, ever.  So tonight when she picked up her tiny piece of vegetarian Italian sausage, she looked at me and asked "is this dead?"  Poor thing.  I assured her it wasn't and she reluctantly took a bite.

So on her plate, which I pictured above, I literally placed one bite of every food I was offering, plus a few of her favorites.  I had told her earlier in the day that we were going to "try something new at dinner" and have her take a bite of a few new foods before she got to eat anything else.  She had agreed earlier, but I was unsure what her reaction would be once dinner time actually came around.  To my delight, she did not yell or scream or even complain.  She looked at her plate, contemplated what to eat first, and picked up a pretzel.  I guess it is typical to eat what you know first to feel "safe".  But after the two pretzels and the one cracker were gone, she tried the veggie sausage, then the avocado, then the rice and then the broccoli (which she has eaten before).  She was not a fan of the sausage, said the rice was "ok", and actually asked for a second piece of avocado and broccoli before eating the tomato, carrot and then more pretzels, a stick of cheese and a granola bar.  She also ate about four more cherry tomatoes and some dried fruit.  So all in all, I have to say it was a success. And I can say is that if this worked with my daughter, it is at least worth a shot with other picky eaters as well.  I plan to try this again at most meals and hope that she finds a few new foods that she can add to her safe list.  Slowly but surely I am determined to create another healthy, adventurous eater.


  1. I love this. What a great idea!! I have to say, I love how personable you are in your blog. I really enjoyed reading this. We feel like there is no end to the tunnel and feel like we have tried anything...get frustrated...what do we do now? AND LOOK!!! She liked it!! That's awesome! Good job mama!!

    1. Thank you so much! I am glad you liked this post and I try to be personable and real, because I am just like everyone else, struggling to do the right thing and take care of the people I love. :)