Over the past year Aria has become so unbelievably picky when it comes to food. Sometimes it changes daily. Sometimes it changes hourly. Some day's it seems like she barely eats anything, but instead of saying "I'm not hungry", she will decide that she doesn't like whatever food is presented to her.
It used to cause me a lot of stress, because I want the best for her, especially in terms of physical and bodily health. Also largely because I was walking the fine line of not becoming a short order cook, while at the same time not wanting her to go to bed hungry.
It can be challenging to remain internally calm when you work so hard to make a delicious meal that you are sure your family will love, only to have your little one completely melt down, because it's just the most awful thing she's ever seen...and then melt down again immediately, because she only want's to eat shredded cheese or ketchup for dinner.
These are some strategies that work well for our family through this picky eating stage.
1. Identify type of eater...and accept it
Some kids do really well with 3 structured meals per day, while other kids are grazers. I have a grazer on my hands. She is hungry throughout the day and eats a lot of small meals. I can never expect her to eat a lot during meal times because that's not how her body works. She has a small tummy, eats small meals, burns them off, and then eats again.
I remind myself of this throughout the day when I expect her to be starving after her nap, or when I make a big delicious dinner that I'm hopeful she will fill up on before bed, but she only takes 3 bites.
2. If a child is hungry, they really will eat
Sometimes kids just aren't hungry. Their metabolisms change, sometimes daily, as their activity level does. Some day's they are hungrier than others.
We go through days where I feel like Aria hardly eats anything. I'll constantly ask if she's hungry and she will continue to say no. She'll eat a tiny bit through the day and I'll expect her to wake up starving at 2am. But she never does.
The next day she usually eats more.
3. Aim for a balanced week
My pediatrician gave me this advice and it lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. As an adult, I constantly aim for a balanced day of the food groups. With toddlers, because they can be so finicky in what they eat and inconsistent in the amount they eat day to day, aim for a balanced week instead.
Some day's it feels like the only thing Aria eat's is fruit. Then the following day she moves on to the next food group.
4. Be creative
I get very creative when it comes to making sure Aria is getting some of the nutrients she needs. It's not perfect, but it works well. We drink a lot of smoothies and fresh homemade juice (with vegetables and fruit). She won't eat kale no matter how I make it, but she will always drink juice or a smoothie with kale in it. Or any other vegetable.
I make homemade macaroni and cheese with pureed carrots in it. I also buy these organic Veggie Fries from Whole Foods, which she loves.
5. Stay consistent
I find that staying consistent in continuing to offer her the full range of whatever we are eating, is helpful. When cooking meals I always make one thing that I know she will eat, with the meal. I make her plate just like our plates, with a little bit of everything I've made. She is welcomed to eat as much or as little as she would like of each thing on her plate. Some day's she only eats the one thing I predicted she will eat. Other day's she will surprise me and try the other things on her plate.
The most important thing about the consistency factor for us is that she knows what to expect. She knows that she won't get a separate meal if she doesn't "like" something. Instead she doesn't have to eat what she doesn't "like". That eliminates the independence struggle. She is free to eat as many servings as she wants, of what she does like.
This also allows me to continuously present foods to her over and over again, showing her what a balanced meal looks like and giving the opportunity for her to try something, should we find ourselves in one of those very rare days where she's adventurous with food.
6. Sit together
When Pj is home we always sit together for meals. When he isn't home it can be tempting for me to be cleaning up or doing dishes while Aria is having lunch or dinner. When I don't sit and eat with her, she eat's much less than when I do. While it may be convenient for me to get things done during that time, it's important for me to be present while she's eating, and to eat with her. She's learning from me how mealtimes work, as well as watching the foods I eat.
7. Expect inconsistency
Expecting that your toddlers eating will be inconsistent is incredibly freeing. Once you accept that it's totally unpredictable and that it has nothing to do with you or the amazing food you've worked so hard to prepare, it's much easier to just let go of it.
8. Snack options
Aria is at an age where she loves having some control and asserting her independence. When it comes to food, she especially loves doing this, because she knows that she ultimately has control over what she puts in her mouth.
When offering her a snack, I have a shelf in the pantry and a shelf in the fridge, filled with healthy snacks she can pick from. When she is hungry she can pick something from one of the shelves. Giving her that bit of control helps fill that desire for independence, while still ultimately giving mommy control.
What do you find helpful to survive a picky eater?