Updated: Feb 12
Yessss! Major picky eating win over here!
We have STRUGGLED with picky eating in our house over the past year. My 7-year-old, who has not always been a picky eater, decided last year that he wanted to eat basically nothing. I will spare you details of meltdowns at dinner. We have worked very hard on improving this over the past year and have found some small wins. However, I am currently on cloud 9 with how happy and willing he has been at dinner this past month.
So what did I do different? Nothing major, I'll tell you that. I made a small shift in my thinking which led to some changes that were apparently just what he needed in this moment.
I can't promise this will work for your picky eater, but just in case....
Step 1 - Meal Planning
I like cooking. I HATE meal planning.
Before kids I was (what I thought) a pretty adventurous cook and would make a new-to-us meal at least once a week. However, I have always been guilty of running to the store last minute to grab ingredients for a recipe I just decided on. Then we had kids, and I used Blue Apron for many years. The closest to meal planning I ever got. During this time, I would ask my son what day of the week he wanted which meal, and he seemed content with that level of input. Fast forward, and I went back to my old ways of choosing what I would make just hours before the meal. Let me tell you, a very picky child + not knowing what is for dinner until getting off the bus after a long day at school = no bueno.
Surly, meal planning alone is helpful. Exactly how we are doing the meal planning, however, is what has been a game changer for us. Keep reading.
Step 2 - Kids Pick
Ready for the big game changer? I asked the kids to do the meal planning for me. Woop woop!
Before I go on, I'd like to make a few disclaimers about how I felt I was doing a decent job serving foods that my kids would enjoy, even before we made these changes. Why do I need to defend myself? Because, I don't suck, ok. First, we have kids-pick night two nights a week (see below). Second, I always serve meals with at least one or two foods my kids like. Third, research shows that too many choices at meal times leads to more picky eating and poor nutrition in kids (1,2). That is a hard balance to find.
I recently decided that maybe my kids need to feel more represented at the dinner table. Maybe my kids need to be served more meals where every food on their plate is a food that they like (and chose), not just one or two.
New world of meal planning in the Ramirez house? On Sunday, the kids pull out the cookbooks, flip through, and choose a meal they want our family to eat during the week. Veronica (age 5) picks a meal. Roberto (age 7) picks a meal. Mommy (age bleep!) picks a meal. Daddy (lucky duck) picks a lunch he wants me to spoil him with during the week. KEY STEP, be in the presence of each other during this process. Be sure your picky eater knows what everyone else has picked for their dinner. There will be no surprises in our new world. Surprises are bad. One good surprise that has come out of this, however, is that Roberto has been open to everyone else's choices, whether he prefers them or not. I did not expect that. And it makes me want to dance around with a big smile on my face like a crazy lady.
One more thing that is critical in order for this process to HELP with picky eating. My kids are picking healthful, balanced meals. These meals are very different from our "pick nights" (see below).
Current Cookbook Favorites
* tell me your favorite cookbooks in the comments below...
** bonus points for cookbooks with pictures and kid/family friendly recipes!
*** yes, I love Chrissy Teigen
Step 3 - Kids Schedule
Then! I ask Roberto, my 7-year-old picky eater, which day he wants his meal to be served. His sister doesn't care, so thankfully there is no arguing over who gets what day. Planning out the days of the week helps him know when to expect each meal. Mentally prepared ahead of time = bueno. Plus, the more choices he makes around dinner, especially when they are choices that really don't matter, the more buy in we get. Once he chooses his day of the week, I ask his sister what night she wants. I get whatever remains. We write the schedule down on our white board calendar that sits in the kitchen. Boom. Meal planning done.
It gets better. Can you believe it? Keep reading.
Step 4 - Kids Cook
Don't think people are putting in orders in my kitchen without helping prepare the meals. Just kidding. I wouldn't mind cooking the meals alone. However, I wanted the kids to feel special about the their dinner choice. They pick the meal. They pick the day it is served. They also help make the meal and set the table. So much to feel proud of!
Pro tip: get your kids an apron and a chefs hat. Everything is better when in costume.