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10 Unique Healthy Eating Tips for Your Picky Eater

March 30, 2021
how to encourage my toddler to eat healthy

In this post, we are discussing how to get your picky eater to eat healthy – whether that’s your toddler, preschooler or your husband! I share my favorite methods for encouraging my picky eaters to eat healthy foods.

Hey there, friend. You’re probably reading this because you want to know how to help your child to eat better, healthier, and more consistently.

First of all let me say that I am NOT a medical professional or dietitian. I’m just a regular ole mom like you who has struggled with the same things. This is what I’ve learned through experience, tons of research and consulting with doctors, nutritionists and registered dietitians. If you or your child has a health issue, please consult with your doctor.

Dr. Justin Coulson at Happy Families – a psychologist and father of 6 (!!) daughters – remarks that some of the most common mealtime mistakes are:

So, what do you do when you fall into some of those pitfalls? I know I have done ALL of those things at one point or another.

Tip #1: Take a deep breath.

Seriously. Take a deep breath. I’ll wait.

Now, hear this: your kid will be okay. They will not starve. They will not grow a third ear because they refuse to eat their broccoli. Let’s have some perspective on this.

One thing my doctor mom would always say: eating is not a learned behavior.

We are not taught to eat, it is something that we are biologically programmed to do. Yes, we learn bad behaviors and unhealthy habits – but starving ourselves is not typically one of those!

Recently, we realized that dinnertime had become a struggle for us with the kids. They just weren’t eating their food! We bribed them, cajoled them, throttled them (just kidding)…after weeks, we decided that they simply were not hungry at that time. So we adjusted their snack schedule and then finally made the decision that they did have to sit with us during family dinner, but they didn’t have to eat at that exact time. However, they couldn’t choose to eat something else: they had to eat a reasonable amount of dinner if/when they wanted a bedtime snack or treat.

I can’t tell you what a stress reliever this has been for our family. We’re able to have fun, light-hearted meals without battling over food. The kids still eat their dinners – albeit, later than we would like – but they eat when they’re hungry and oftentimes they eat ALL of their dinner and more!

This all started with us taking a deep breath and gaining some perspective. What mattered was that our children ate and that they ate reasonably healthy, filling foods. It doesn’t HAVE to be on “our” schedule and it may not look like what we want it to, but we’re accomplishing our goal: happy, healthy children.

Tip #2: Don’t bring food into the house that you don’t want your child to eat.

If your kid only wants to have hot dogs and macaroni for dinner and cocoa puffs for breakfast – just don’t buy it anymore. If they fill up on Doritos and Chewy bars all afternoon long and then aren’t hungry for dinner – there’s a simple fix for that.

Look, I’m not saying this is easy to do…but I am saying it’s simple.

We recently stopped purchasing applesauce pouches – not because they were unhealthy, but because that was the only thing my son wanted to eat! We were spending more money on pouches than on any other category of food each week. So, I stopped buying them.

Now, let me tell you that at first he was devastated. It broke my heart. But, as kids do, he moved on. He doesn’t even ask for them anymore and is perfectly happy with the other snack choices that we offer him.

Tip #3: Have your picky eater eat what you eat but allow for flexibility.

I once heard a mom share how she got her child to eat a healthier breakfast: she made herself the healthy meal and gave her child something relatively bland/boring. Within seconds, the child was leaning over to see what her mom had to eat. Before the mom could take more than one bite, the child had commandeered the healthy meal!

This just shows us how much our kids look to us. If they see us eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they will be more likely to do the same.

Also, this is just a sanity check: don’t make a separate meal for your picky eater! This is a slippery slope. If you have 5 picky eaters in your family, will you make separate, customized meals for all of them?! Please stop this habit before it becomes a mom’s worst nightmare.

So, how do you do this?

By making balanced, healthy meals with flexibility.

Here’s an example: I’ll make this meal frequently in our household. However, we all eat it differently. I like to squeeze lime over mine and sprinkle some cilantro. Tyler likes to cover his in cheese and sour cream and then eat it with tortilla chips. Finn and Justus get a dollop of plain Greek yogurt to make theirs more creamy and get cheese like Papa. I’ve made one meal, but everyone gets what they like.

(By the way, here are some of the meals that I make frequently for our family. They’re healthy but relatively simple and flexible.)

Figure out what your mealtime boundaries will be and stick to them. For example: I won’t make separate meals for everyone in our family, but I will allow my child to slather their vegetables in cheese.

My friend Betsy at GroWell Nutrition has wonderful tips and tricks on her Facebook page for your picky eater!

Tip #4: Plan your meals AND snacks AND desserts.

If you don’t have a plan, it’s so much easier for meals to get “blurry.”

What I mean is this: if you don’t know what you’re going to eat for breakfast (or lunch or dinner…) then we usually gravitate toward what’s easiest and what we’re craving in that moment. But that’s not always the healthiest option for us! However, when we plan ahead, we know exactly what we’re going to eat and it helps us to make better decisions.

The same goes for our kids: if we know what we’re going to feed them, it’s so much easier than staring into the fridge/pantry and asking them what they want to eat! That never goes well.

So that’s why I make a meal plan for the week on Sunday evenings. I sit down and plan out what we’re going to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day and make sure I have a plan for snacks and treats. I try to do some batch cooking so that I’m not making meals from scratch for each and every meal of the day! For example, on Sunday nights I usually make a large batch of steel cut oats to feed us breakfast through the week (Monday-Friday…weekends are for pancakes 😉 ) and I’ll throw some sweet potatoes into the oven to feed us lunches through the week. For dinners, I generally try to make a meal that will feed us for two nights in a row so that I can have a little break from cooking.

Check out my healthy week-long meal plan. It includes a plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts for 7 days – that’s 35 meals planned out for you along with recipes, tips and tricks for your picky eater, a grocery list and more.

It’s super important to have balance and a healthy perspective with our food choices, which is why I think it’s good to incorporate treats and desserts into our diets. It’s nice to have something to look forward to after a long day or week. Generally speaking, I try to have “healthy” desserts and treats for during the week and reserve the splurges for the weekends. For example, my four-year-old has a small handful of dark chocolate covered almonds during his quiet time (AKA little brother’s nap time) each day and then we usually have ice cream or roast marshmallows on Saturdays or Sundays. This gives us all something to look forward to and provides a nice balance in our diet.

A word on snacking for picky eaters…

In our house, over-snacking has led to many food battles. Dinner time was ROUGH until we figured out that we need to schedule our snacks. So, each day we have snacks at 10:00am and at 3:00pm. The boys’ snacks typically consist of one pantry item such as a Larabar, whole grain crackers, dried cranberries or popcorn AND one or two refrigerator/produce items such as a clementine, apple, grapes, cheese stick or goat cheese with their crackers.

Tip #5: Give some choices…and take some choices away.

It’s a give and take here. Literally.

One of the silliest things I do is ask my four-year-old what he wants to eat for lunch.

I know exactly what he wants to eat for lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Every time.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good ole pb&j – but when I ask him what he wants and it’s not: a. what I want to give him or b. all that healthy for him…then we’ve got problems.

One of the goals here is to de-pressurize our meals. We don’t want our kids to pick up on our anxiety over their eating – that’s never good.

So, stop asking your kid what they want to eat. Instead, pre-determine what you will feed them, and THEN give them options. For example:

Would you like cinnamon on top of your sweet potato?

Do you want blueberries or strawberries on your yogurt?

Would you want your avocado on your sandwich or on the side?

You see what I’m getting at here?

Tip #6: Involve your picky eater in the meal prep process.

Finn (4) helping me make our favorite pumpkin spice steel cut oatmeal.

One way that I get my four-year-old to try new foods is by having him cook alongside me. When he was first starting to eat solids, I would let him play with the spices and we would do the “smell game” where I would let him sniff various spices. As he got older, he started to help me do some basic measuring, scooping and mixing. He cracked eggs and whisked them. Now he peels potatoes, chops zucchini, and adds seasonings to our meals.

We’ve started keeping a garden and it’s been wonderful for getting him to eat vegetables! After all, they’re the work of his own hands.

One of Finn’s jobs around the house is to help me keep our garden alive!

Tip #7: Mix new, healthy foods with old favorites

If you’re trying to get your kid (or picky eating husband!) to eat broccoli, for example, try mixing it with other foods they already like to eat. If you leave the broccoli on its own on their plate, it’s much easier to push it to the side than if its covered in cheese and mixed with macaroni!

This works all of the time with my husband. He has a very limited number of vegetables that he likes, but if l chop up onions, bell peppers, zucchini or other veggies small enough and mix them with the “approved” foods, he either won’t notice them at all, or only grumble slightly as he eats them.

My friend Betsy at GroWell Nutrition has wonderful tips and tricks on her Facebook page for your picky eater!

Tip #8: Regularly introduce new foods to your picky eater

Each weekly, as I’m grocery shopping, I try to choose one new fruit, vegetable or whole grain to try. I like to treat this more as an experiment than as something I expect my family to happily devour. I choose foods that are in season, inexpensive, and interesting.

Together, we learn how to prepare and eat our new food. For example, a few months ago, we purchased one pomegranate. I didn’t even know how to cut up a pomegranate! So Finn and I watched a video together about how to cut one up. He helped me pick the seeds out of the pomegranate and we remarked on the color and texture, how interesting the fruit was. It was fun!

Now, fast forward several months and pomegranates are one of their favorite fruits!

On the other hand, a few months ago we tried pitaya (also known as dragon fruit). It was a super neat looking fruit – but none of us loved the taste. It had the texture of a kiwifruit, but to us, it didn’t actually taste like much. We had a few small bites and put the rest in a smoothie. No harm done – it was a fun experiment for the family. No pressure, just an interesting experience for all of us.

Another example of this was when we purchased an eggplant. Finn and I scrolled through Pinterest searching for “eggplant recipes” and I let him pick the recipe for us to make together. We made eggplant pizzas and it was fun!

I’m not advocating for us to come up with unique meals every night of the week – that’s not realistic or sustainable. We all tend to eat the same meals and foods over and over again – which is totally fine and normal! – but it’s helpful to introduce new foods in a fun way with no pressure.

Tip #9: Consult with a pediatric dietitian

If you’re at your wits end with your picky eater, I highly recommend consulting with a pediatric dietitian. This is someone who knows a ton about nutrition, healthy eating, a balanced mindset when it comes to food AND knows about kids.

These days, lots of pediatric dietitians are doing online or phone consults – so you don’t even have to leave the house. For example, Betsy Britt at GroWell Nutrition has an online picky eating course – or you can do a personalized family consult via Zoom.

Tip #10: Don’t Give Up.

Having tension and difficulty during mealtimes with a picky eater can be SO challenging. But don’t give up, mama! Think of this as an exercise in growth, just like working out: when you first start to exercise, it’s hard and you’re sore and tired. But after a while, it becomes easier and easier. You get stronger, have more energy and feel more confident. It’s the same thing with parenting! Choosing to do the “hard things” for and with our children is draining at first, but over time it becomes easier and we all reap the benefits.

Dietitian and mother of two, Betsy Britt of GroWell Nutrition, says that it can take 20-30 introductions for a child to accept a new food. That’s A LOT of tries! So don’t worry if it doesn’t go well the first time, or the second time….or the fifteenth time.

I heard this tip from Betsy last year as my youngest, Justus, was starting to eat solids for the first time. This has been instrumental in helping him to become a well-rounded eater.

I will also say that physical growth and the natural process of maturing will help our kids as well if we’re consistent and patient. For example, there were foods that Justus did not eat last year but now (because I kept introducing those foods) he loves them!

One of Justus’s favorite meals: stir fry. He especially loves it between his toes!

Also, it’s hard to explain to an 18 month old why they should eat their veggies, but it’s much easier now with my 4-year-old. I can explain to him the benefits of each food and he really likes that!

These carrots are filled with beta carotene which help keep your eyes really healthy – it especially helps you to be able to see better at night!

This chicken has lots of protein to help build your muscles up so you can be strong like mama!

Your avocado that you’re eating has some really healthy fats – that helps your heart to be even more powerful! Can you feel your heart beat?

Those blueberries have tons of antioxidants in them, which helps your body have more energy to fight off bad-guy germs!

With three boys around our dinner table, there’s a lot of muscle-showing, karate-chopping, and pirate-like ‘arrghh’ going on while we eat. It’s a little chaotic, but it’s also fun and makes our meals way more interesting.

Well, friend, I hope this is helpful for you in your journey toward better health and more sanity! Don’t forget: you are not alone. Always feel free to reach out to me for prayers and support. I’d love to pray for you!

Comment below: what are some unique ways you’ve gotten your picky eater to eat healthy foods more consistently?

Parenting

A Letter from Your Child’s Teacher About the New School Year

August 17, 2020
a letter from your child's teacher about the new school

For today’s blog post, I’ll be sharing a letter from my dear friend, Mrs. Richardson. Mrs. Richardson is a second grade teacher in Cary, North Carolina. She has written an insightful and encouraging letter to parents about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the 2019-2020 school year, what challenges teachers faced and how schools are fighting to overcome those challenges for the 2020-2021 school year. So, if you are sending your children back to school this year – whether virtually or in-person – I hope you’ll read this letter.

How COVID affected the 2019-2020 school year – and what will be different this year

During March of this year, teachers and students left school for Spring Break, not knowing we wouldn’t return for the rest of the school year. I have the last day in my classroom ingrained in my memory. I tried to make it fun for the kids. We did St. Patrick’s day activities, creative writings about what they would do if they found a pot of gold, Read and Feed, and watched the Bee Movie since we had been learning about flowers, pollination, and the plant life cycle.

These are the last images I have of my classroom. Everything frozen in time. Student work left on the walls, supply baskets strewn about as they had left them, countdowns on my board of things we would never get to. A time capsule of March 13, 2020.

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Devotionals for Moms Parenting

How to Pray the Scriptures for Your Child

June 10, 2020
pray the scriptures for your child

As moms, we want so many things for our children: to love God, to be healthy and happy, to have great friends, excel academically, and so much more. So we take them to doctor’s appointments and tutoring, organize special activities and events, enroll them in sports, arrange play dates, budget for college.

All of these things are fantastic, however, the most important thing we can be doing for our children is praying for them. There is no greater being in all the Universe to impact our child’s future, so we should be petitioning Him at every turn (Luke 18:1-8).

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    By praying the Scriptures for our kids, we are allowing God’s Word to shape our requests to the Almighty. 

    This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

    1 John 5:14

    Sure, we can pray all we want for our kids to be billionaire tech geniuses – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s within God’s will – or that it’s all that good for our kids! But by praying the Scriptures we’re not just petitioning God on behalf of our children, we’re utilizing the power of His Word to mold our appeals. 

    Also, I know we all want to pray for our kids – but sometimes, we don’t know exactly what to say. Praying the Scriptures guides us with what to say and how to pray. 

    So, here’s a few examples of Scriptures to pray for our kids as well as how to pray through them:

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    Mom Interviews Parenting

    Transitioning to Two Kids

    May 6, 2020
    transitioning to two kids

    Hey mama! I’m excited to share this post with you about the transition from one to two kids. I’m sharing my own story, but I also have lots of helpful advice, tips and encouragement from moms who have gone before us! I hope this is helpful as you navigate the new waters of having two kiddos.

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    Parenting

    You Know You’re a Boy Mom When…

    March 11, 2020
    being a boy mom means...

    After our mom interviews yesterday with three boy moms, I was inspired to share this with you guys. I LOVE being a boy mom…but it’s not for the faint of heart.

    Being a boy mom means…

    • Having bruises everywhere – and not having a clue where they came from. 
    • You’ve been tackled more today than Saquon Barkley has all season.
    • You know who Saquon Barkley is. 
    • You’ve given in to how much dirt is acceptable to sleep in. 
    • You know that if it’s taller than he is, he wants to climb it. And jump off. Again and again. And again.
    • When you hear “WATCH THIS!” you have a heart attack.
    • You’ve heard “WATCH THIS!” 1000000x in your son’s short life.
    • Your knowledge of construction vehicles/dinosaurs/race cars can rival any man’s. 
    • You live for the moments when your child stops running around like a crazy person and hugs you.
    • You sometimes envy girl moms who can actually sit and finish a cup of coffee…in the morning. 
    • You have to clarify that you want your child to wash with soap.
    • You’ve given up all hopes that your child will ever be a polite eater.
    • When you hear your son say, “I love you, mommy,” it makes up for the fact that they’ve created enough laundry for an entire army of washing machines.
    • You’ve thrown out clothes that were beyond washing.
    • You’ve hidden THAT shirt that they want to wear over and over again.
    • If you want your son to do something, you know that all you have to do is turn it into a race or contest of strength.
    • Receiving a head butt from your son is a great sign of affection. The harder the head butt, the more he loves you.
    • You’ve dug through your vacuum dustbin searching for LEGO pieces.
    • It’s a regular occurrence for your child to drop his pants and pee in the grass – no matter who else is present!
    • You don’t even flinch when they burp or fart…in your face.
    • You know that their finest sports jersey is considered Sunday best.. 
    • You’ve looked into a diaper and wondered: “Is that poop…or testicles?”
    • You already know that no girl can ever love them as much as you do (and yet you hope some day someone will!) 
    • Going to Home Depot/Lowe’s with your son is akin to bringing them to Disney world. 
    • Whenever you enter someone’s home, you just pray that you can leave without them breaking something. 
    • You can comfortably breastfeed your son while he turns backflips over you.
    • You speak in noises more than actual words.
    • You’ve said “be gentle” and “be careful” about 500000000x in their short lives. 
    • You think there should be a special kind of health insurance for little boys. 
    • At night, when you put them to bed, you squeeze them tight and watch them sleep, knowing that your time with them will always be too short. 
    • You are proud to be a boy mom.

    If you’re a fellow boy mom, what’s your favorite thing about being a boy mom? Comment below!

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