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You Can Lead a Kid To Broccoli, But You Can't Make Him Eat

I'm not a nutritionist, but I play one in real life. Feeding this tribe for 11 years has taught me a thing or two (mostly the hard way). Motherhood has a way of requiring you to get up to speed – fast – on subjects for which people actually train professionally. (I'm expecting my degrees in emergency medicine and transportation logistics to be arriving any day.)

There are few things more frustrating to a parent of a preschooler than finicky eating. It can turn mealtimes into an exhausting battle – I know, I've been there. All four of my kids have gone through stages of picky eating; my oldest son, in particular, has always been very sensitive to the texture and smell of his food. Early in my parenting journey, I allowed this to cause me some very real anguish. Thankfully, I had a very level-headed pediatrician that gave me some stellar advice:

"Don't create unnecessary battles," he said. And he was absolutely right.

It's a very unwise thing for a parent to pick a battle he or she cannot win. Certainly eating falls into this category. You may be able to control when your child eats, or how often they have access to snacks, or what types of food are put in front of them, but you cannot FORCE another person to eat. So, my doctor told me, "Don't put yourself into that position." Two year olds are smart little cookies; they will sense a parent's consternation over their refusal to eat. The more you beg or argue, the more power your little dear will hold in his sticky little hands.

Thanks to my wise pediatrician, I learned that making picky eating a non-issue is the best approach for our family. If the kids aren't interested in the meal in front of them, we simply wrap it up and put it in the fridge until they are interested (and no desserts or snacks until they've had a go at the saved meal). Our around-the-table time is precious enough that I don't want to spend it locking horns.

Here are a few other things I've learned to make picky eating less of a stress for our family:

Give them room for personal preference. I know that my seven year old hates broccoli and my nine year old won't touch a salad. It's okay. I still serve those things to the rest of the crew, but I don't insist that the kids eat something I know they hate.

Resist the urge to be a short-order cook. In our family, everyone gets the same meal, and I make it a point to make sure there's at least one item on the plate that everyone likes. If somebody refuses what's on his plate ... well, breakfast is in a few hours!

Keep the size of their appetite in mind. Remember that toddlers and preschoolers, especially, have tiny little stomachs. Three or four bites of something may really be enough to fill her up.

Mealtime is as much as about fellowship as food. We talk and laugh a lot at our table. I want my kids to have happy memories of the time we spend there together, and I know they're more likely to remember a good joke than a good casserole. Keeping the mood light makes it easier on us all.

Most of all, trust your own instincts as a parent. If you feel like your child's picky eating issues have gone beyond what is considered typical, then talk to a pediatrician you trust. Chances are, he or she will be able to give you the same kind of helpful reassurances mine gave me.

What about you? How have you handled this issue in your family, and what are the best methods you've learned for making mealtimes happy?


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