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We have two kids (almost 5yo and 20 months). Both are very picky eaters, eating some carbs(noodles, pasta, or bread, all plain; no potatoes/rice!), and fruit of all kinds, but nothing or very little else. We as parents enjoy a varied diet (including fish, veg, meat, all home cooked) and we give whatever we are eating to the kids at dinner time. If the dish is spicy, we will prepare an plain version for them, but otherwise we would like them to eat what we eat (within reason).

Unless the meal has some of the preferred carbs (noodles, pasta, or bread), the kids will eat very little, even a forkful. So for example, lasagna or stir-fry is out, as the pasta or noodle are 'tainted' with sauces. We usually end up feeding them 'properly' with fruit for dessert.

So while we would like them to have a varied diet,the never ending struggle at mealtimes to get them to eat what's put in front of them is starting(understatement!) to wear on the already overworked parents.

After several years of trying to do the right thing (the 5yo has seen green beans on his plate at least 100 times), we are about to give in. What is the worst that will happen if they ate pasta/noodles and fruit everyday?

If it relevant; the kids eat porridge for breakfast, with a little honey OR dried dates. The 5yo will always have a second bowl (wheatabix or cornflakes), I assume because he hasn't had a proper dinner the night before. We've tried not serving the 2nd bowl of cereal, but it hasn't led to better dinnertime habits and has led to tears all around.

Also relevant is that we have tried all kinds of persuasion (with the older one); bribes, cajoling, timeouts, shouting, pleading, so if you can come to my house and get him to eat a bite of lasagne within 15 minutes I'll give you $100, except you are not allowed to use new toys as a lever!!

Also possibly relevant; both will eat somewhat more readily at their grandmothers house(food we have prepared at home!!!)

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did they eat well as babies? My kids ate all kinds of stuff when I was spoon feeding them, but once they started to self feed their diet went down hill fast! –  Jax Mar 21 at 22:55

5 Answers 5

No, their diet is not reasonable. They are building bodies so need a significant amount of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins (that's before you even look at trace minerals, omega group of fatty oils and such). Even though our children eat almost everything (and lots of it), a blood test showed our son was short on iron and vitamin D.

It is critical for brain and body growth to have a balanced diet. It is critical that a 5yo learns to eat a variety of food as they are about to (or just have) start school and you lose control over halt their food intake.

Poor diet will also have other side effects such as behavioural and learning deficits.

Short term actions:

  1. target the 5yo, the toddler is probably following his lead, plus they have their own dietary restrictions.
  2. start the 5yo on vitamins (I'm not sure about the toddler). You may want to consider getting a blood test done before this to establish a baseline, but it is not pleasant for a child.
  3. feed them the healthy food that they like (sounds like they might go for steak and 3 veg for dinner). If the 5yo is hungry in the morning, try eggs on toast for breakfast - there's lots of protein in that.
  4. change to fortified, high-fibre breads so they get as much as possible out of that.
  5. Look at the food you are preparing. Perhaps you really need to be more child oriented.

The other issue (how to get them to eat) is probably best dealt with in a separate question.

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Children accept or reject foods based on different reasons than adults do. Often the exact same food (to you) will be accepted if you change some trivial aspect of it. Some tips:

  • texture really matters. Many kids reject meat for texture reasons. There's a reason why burgers are such a popular kid food. Burgers, meatballs, meatloaf, sausages, any time the meat is ground up and easier to chew (and presented in smaller pieces) you'll get better acceptance. When we served large sausages the kids got theirs in "circles or sticks?" to make eating them easier and to give them some choices.
  • sliminess rejection is a safety reflex (anaerobic decomposition makes things slimy) that can give some greens, soft eggs, and fish the thumbs down even though we know these things are fine. Try offering the beans and spinach raw, the eggs hardcooked, and the fish overcooked to get past that reflex.
  • toddlers and preschoolers seem to come in two camps: "none of my food can touch and I hate sauces" or "just let me stir it all together into homogenous mush." For years (well into school age) we served spaghetti by putting noodles on the plate and pausing with the sauce saying "next to or on?" Visiting children responded very positively to this and apparently we were the only parents who gave a choice. The "next to" camp often eat the sauce (or some components of it, such as all the mushrooms) if it isn't all tangled up in their noodles. Try to bring components to the table and put it together on each serving rather than in advance like lasagna. And don't rebuke the child who stirs your beautifully layered shepherds pie into meat-speckled potato paste.
  • learn some tricks from vegetarians. Can you grate cheese onto their pasta? That's a complete protein if there's enough cheese. Can you put butter on the pasta and they'll eat raw green beans? Complete protein and fat right there. Will they eat a bowl of cooked green peas and corn (both available frozen)? Complete protein again. Will they eat a peanut butter sandwich at lunch? If so you don't need to worry so much about dinner.
  • please don't be those parents who put grated carrots into the meatloaf or zucchini into the cake - this just trains children that vegetables are horrible and not something we eat.
  • a five year old is quite capable of understanding they need to eat protein, and learning what foods contain it, so that when they ask for a snack you can say "what would you like that has protein?" This might include some of those protein drinks if you like, but cheese, egg, slice of ham, peanut butter, handful of cashews etc are all pretty kid friendly for random eating during the day.

Finally, stop cajoling, pleading, begging and generally making it into a thing. I have some experience with more extreme versions of this watching close relatives deal with an extremely picky eater (she was 5 before she ate so much as a mouthful of any food prepared at my house - they brought their own for her - and a teen before she ate pizza or pasta at all, even one bite) and you can miss out on a lot of nice family time because you're trying to make someone eat a bean. Once you know they are getting what they need each day, try to let them decide how much they eat (including none) of what is on offer, and get them to take their own power. If they only have power from not eating, not eating is what you'll get. If they have power when they eat, that opens the door to eating freely, subject of course to how hungry they are and whether or not they like what you're offering. (Hence the tips to increase the chances they'll like what you're offering.)

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I love your advice to stop "making it into a thing." This is really good advice. I up voted your answer, but I do have to say I disagree with imploring the OP not to hide veggies in other foods. I get your reasoning, but, there are some advantages to doing exactly that. 1) In the beginning, it ensures kids are getting the benefits they need from healthy foods. 2) if done well, it's a way to gradually introduce them to the flavors so that they learn to like veggies. –  Jax Mar 21 at 22:49
    
@Jax if you have a "don't mix stuff" kid then mixing carrots into something else will just mean none of it gets eaten. If you assume it's the taste they don't like, hiding or diluting it will either cause them not to like the whole thing, or keep them from tasting it anyway. Far better to serve carrots (cooked in a way that appeals to little ones) and eat them obviously and visibly so it's clear this family eats carrots. The nice thing about vegetable nutrients is that there are lots of ways to get them, including supplements, so there's no need for hiding. Meat is a bit harder. –  Chrys Mar 22 at 14:45

Definitely not. Dave covered that well.

How do you deal with it? Well, for one, stop giving them fruit for dessert. They're both old enough to understand hunger. If they don't eat their dinner, no additional food is available; dinner is in the fridge and can be brought out an hour later. Otherwise, sorry. Going to bed hungry one or two nights won't hurt them in the long run; eating fruit for dinner will. They'll learn to eat dinner once that stops, although it may take some time to really sink in - they will want to test your limits first and see if they can force you to give them the fruit.

Also, consider moving the meal schedule around some. They may not be very hungry at dinner if it is too close to a snack or just wrong for their internal clock. Eat an hour later. Eat an hour earlier and skip the snack. Whatever you're able to do (within reason based on YOUR schedule of course) to see what works. Stick to what changes you do make for at least a week to give it a chance to set in.

Finally, particularly for the five year old, give them some control. Don't let them pick "Carb Dinner Night" all the time, but bring them in on the meal planning. Get some cookbooks with pictures, and give them a selection of 10 things, say, to pick from; let the 5 year old pick 2 dinners and the almost-2 year old 1 dinner per week or something like that. Once they've done this several times, they'll have a list of things they will want to pick from that they know from memory; make the ground rules that they have to be meat/veggie/whatever containing, but otherwise can pick anything that's reasonable. Giving them some control over their meals means two things - not only do they feel in control, which is a big issue for a young child (or an adult!) but they can also show you what they like to eat, helping you to adapt your cooking habits over time towards what kinds of food they enjoy that are still nutritious.

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Give them a nudge

If your child is a picky eater, it's your job as a parent to give them a little bit of a nudge. They will be less healthy and it won't serve them in later life. My middle child who is a picky eater has noticeably less stamina than the other two.

Find out what motivates them

You need to find out what motivates your child. You can use this to encourage him / her.

For example, my my middle child wants to be a super hero, so if the spoon is a crashing aircraft with people on board, he will, reluctantly 'save' them by letting them land in his 'emergency airport' (this really works).

My eldest is motivated by money, so a pound will encourage him.

Things that work

Here are some things that worked for us:

  1. Set limits on your expectations and stand by them. Don't push two hard - two spoonfuls is enough. Encourage trust. If you say two spoonfuls, stick to it and don't push for a third.
  2. Find out what motivates your child. e.g destroying the aliens, saving Mummy, rescuing the people, etc. Use that.
  3. Watch for different foods touching each other on the plate.
  4. Watch for bits. Bits are a big no-no. If I can assure my child there are no bits he'll often have a go.
  5. Taking a zooming run up to the spoon from the other side of the room. Unorthodox, but it worked!

Best of luck with it!

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what the heck is a "bit"? It doesn't sound appetizing... –  Jax Mar 21 at 19:14
    
You know, bits, small lumps. For example, my son won't drink orange juice with "Juicy bits" in it. I have to buy the smooth variety. Until I worked this out I just thought he was fussy about orange juice. –  superluminary Mar 21 at 19:28
    
I used to use a small sieve to strain the pulpy bits out of orange juice - saves buying two kinds. –  Chrys Mar 21 at 19:46
    
@superluminary phew! I was hoping you weren't talking about insects. My limited-English-speaking grandmother used to call insects "bits". –  Jax Mar 21 at 20:18

I can't improve on Dave's answer but I can add some advice about picky eaters. Our 5-yr-old is so picky she was bordering on malnutrition. After a visit to the doc to get her checked, he recommended protein and nutritional drinks to supplement her diet. (We use a protein powder that's essentially a meal replacement; took trying a LOT of different ones to find one she liked).

Also, see if you can get the 5-yr-old engaged in some discussions about trying new foods or eating what you provide. There might be something underlying there that you won't get to without a good deal of digging.

(Anecdata follows.) I talked with the 5-yr-old about food a LOT while trying to find out what was going on with her (why do you not want to try this? does it look funny? taste weird? sound weird?) and finally she fessed up that she was afraid a new food would make her vomit (thank you SO much, random string bean two years ago). I took her to a hypnotherapist who helped me get past MY emetophobia when I was pregnant with her (can't really be running from a barfing child when you're the parent). She's not all the way there, but she IS getting better about trying new foods. It's definitely a work in process.

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+1 for the "random string bean" anecdote. –  deworde Mar 21 at 11:23
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I would be cautious about recommending nutritional supplements without going to a doctor first. While it's not a bad idea necessarily, that's the sort of thing that should definitely be in the realm of the pediatrician, not internet help sites, as each children varies and while it's helpful for some, it may not be what a particular child needs - and could be harmful in some cases. –  Joe Mar 21 at 12:10
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And you'll notice I didn't recommend them at all. I merely related what our pediatrician said would help our daughter. –  Valkyrie Mar 21 at 14:36
    
That's not how it comes across; that's basically the only thing in the first paragraph that looks like advice. If you're intending to suggest seeing a doctor, you might want to emphasize that part more. –  Joe Mar 22 at 2:30

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