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22 Ways to Out-Smart a Picky Eater

Reasons Motherhood Is Awesome No. 234: the license to be sneaky.

*rubbing hands together*

My favorite place to be sneaky?

The kitchen.

I rule the food in this family with an iron spoon. 

Being an insanely picky eater (The words “fine dining” triggers my drool reflex), it’s a personal challenge every week to get around the “refined palates” of my kids and squeeze in those nutrients they try hardest to avoid.

With a few secret weapons like The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively DeliciousI put spinach in brownies, zucchini in pasta sauce, and this week I managed to hide kale in pesto.  (They asked for seconds!)

So when Pam, one of my favorite people in the world, emailed to ask me for picky eater suggestions, I was super excited to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Here are the tricks I used with my babies.  Try them in stages, or all at once.

BTW, before you dive in, I would suggest picking up a full body bib.  Just let that sink in for a minute.  No more applesauce sleeves.  No more sneaky sauce drips.  It’s too amazing for words, you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Heather’s Hacks for
Out-Smarting Your Picky Eater

  1. Alternate spoonfuls of an old favorite with a new not-sure one. Watching their face adjust to the yum-yuck pattern is hilarious.  Grab the camera.
  2. Mix a healthy green into a yummy fruit. Like a teeny-tiny bit of green beans with peaches.
  3. Make it a game. This placement has various animals printed on it.  Ask if he can find the elephant, if he can find it he “wins” and gets a prize (a bite).  This is also a great way to work on animal sounds!
  4. Hide bitter greens in sweeter vegetables. Try mixing some kale with sweet carrot puree, or spinach with corn.
  5. Add a dash of V8 into a bottle of juice. I did this for years, adding a little more each month.  Don’t try until after the first birthday, since tomatoes are acidic.
  6. Don’t rush a new food. Commit to introducing it every day for a week before you know for sure if it’s a winner.  Some babies take longer to “warm up” to new tastes.
  7. Play with textures. Once your baby is around 11 months, you can stop pureeing the foods and try out different textures (like the very tip tops of cooked broccoli heads).
  8. Teach your baby to sign. I cannot tell you how helpful baby sign language is.  You don’t have to teach them to sign paragraphs, just simple words like “milk” or “more” or “all done.” It eliminates frustrated table tantrums.
  9. Give him the power of the spoon. Some stronger willed kids will eat just fine…as long as they are doing the feeding. (This totally worked with my Elena—weeks of frustration fixed in minutes.)
  10. Give him a present. Put a new finger food inside a non-disposable cloth snack bag he can open like a present.  He’ll be more likely to try the food found inside.
  11. Watch the tempo. Are you going to fast? or too slow?
  12. Minimize distractions. Turn off the TV and take away all the toys. It’s feeding time.
  13. Make it a family affair. Your baby may find eating more fun if he’s doing it with the family.  It’s easy to turn family food into baby food.  See how I did it with the Thanksgiving feast. 
  14. Praise her for trying new foods. The more smiles your baby can earn, the more motivated he will be to eat
  15. Keep an eye on the time. Most kids get super cranky if you keep them tied to a chair too long.  Try to keep mealtimes between 20-30 minutes.
  16. Use good ‘ole fashioned bribery ~Facebook fan Heather P.  wrote that avocados are her daughter’s favorite, so she will often say “one more bite and you can have more avo!”
  17. Let him get messy. Get a splat mat and lay it under the high chair to catch spills.  (Bonus hint: the bigger the better.  Don’t spend the money for something too small to be useful.  Go jumbo.  You’ll be soooo glad you did.)
  18. Food first, bottle second. Catching him when he’s hungry is an easy way to get him eating.  Offer the breast or bottle as the “dessert course” when he’s finished.
  19. Leave out the sugary foods (for now). I let my kids have sugary treats once in a while now, but when they were babies I was very strict about the sugars.  The earlier you introduce your baby to sweets, the harder it’s going to be to encourage that same mouth to enjoy kale, or carrots, or other, more nutritious (but less sweet) foods. We let that first birthday cake be her first step into Candyland.
  20. Encourage him to play with his food. These construction baby utensils are perfect to get him excited to eat.  They even come with a construction plate with food ramps!
  21. Experiment with reverse psychology. In tough cases, try sitting down as a family and digging in…but leave your baby in the high chair without anything on his tray.  After a minute of watching everyone else smile and enjoy the food, he’s very likely to sign or grunt that he wants to try it too!  If you’re a single mom, you can do the same thing by sitting down at the table with him, but reading a magazine or book until he lets you know he’s ready to eat.

Picky Eater Tip #22:
Have a Special Meal Set

Okay, I have one final picky eater tip for you to try out.  It’s a doozy and I’m crediting this clever little ruse as the reason why Elena and Bella will eat broccoli and asparagus so enthusiastically.

Have a special meal set that you only use when you’re trying a new food (including the 3-4 days you are introducing it) . Have him start on the regular boring dish…but then say “How about we try something new on these special plates?” Then let him dig into the new flavors you are introducing on this new exciting tableware.  (It’s amazing all the foods I’ve shoved in that Dino Taco holder!)

Here are a few meal sets that I know your little one will love.

1. TriceraTaco Holder | 2. Fish Mat (or Elephant Mat)
3. Dinner Winner Tray | 4. Unicorn Set (or Airplane Set)
5. Constructive Eating Set

Is She a Picky Eater?
Or Something Else?

If none of these tactics seem to work, it’s time to take a step back and ask a wider question:  Is he being picky?  Or is something else going on here?

There are several reasons a baby may refuse food:

  • He is full.
  • He doesn’t feel well.
  • She is distracted and think something else is more interesting than eating.
  • She’s teething.
  • He’s not interested in eating solid foods yet.  (Some babies can wait as long as 8 months before they get interested in eating solids.)

If your baby is growing at a healthy rate, don’t worry too much about his eating habits.

Let your baby be your guide.  When he’s done, be done.  If he’s not interested, don’t push it. (As long as he’s still growing at a healthy weight.)

If you start noticing food patterns; like he refuses everything but bananas, or seems to be leaning towards fruits and no veggies, you give these evil tricks a go and sneak some vitamin-packed foods in that cute tummy.

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5 thoughts on “22 Ways to Out-Smart a Picky Eater

  1. We actually opted for BLW as a means to introduce solids and our son took to it like a fish to water. He has always has control over what he east and how much and will generally prefer veggies over meat or starch. I am sure that his open-mindedness towards food (both new and known) has quite a bit to do with his own personality, but I like to think that having him eat what we were eating from the get-go has had a positive impact on his eagerness to eat any food.

    1. I have to tell you Sophie, Baby-Led Weaning was something I discovered when Bella was past the baby stage. Do you have any books or websites you’d recommend for parents who want to explore it? (I think that would make a great post idea, btw! I’m adding that to my list!)

    2. As far as books go, I really enjoyed Baby-Led Weaning, The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods by Rapley and Murkett especially in the beginning when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go for BLW or not. I also found a lot of information on babyledweaning.com and http://wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com/babyledweaning.htm

      Another good source of information and help was the BLW group from babycenter. It was great to have the forums to asks questions and get replies quickly from other using BLW. It is scary at first especially as a FTM when no one else seems to know what it is, but once you get started, you realize that it is much simpler and less scary than it seems.

      I would love to see a post of yours on BLW! Your posts are always really well researched and an enjoyable read.

    3. Thanks so much Sophie! I’ve added it to my list (and starred it for extra emphasis). 🙂 I went ahead and hyperlinked your book at Amazon, if people are interested. Those look like great sites. I will look forward to poking around them!

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