Notoriously Picky Eaters

I can tell you from experience that changing the way my kids ate was not a cake walk (no pun intended). But it has been worth it. Almost overnight my toddler went from crabby to sweet. His happy energy increased and his moodiness decreased so substantially and suddenly that it was not even a question that it was caused by the change in diet.

It wasn’t that long ago that my toddler ate crackers and cheerios every day and seemed to fill up on pasta or bread at every meal. I was tired and had a newborn to take care of, so success to me was just keeping everyone fed.

As I was changing my own diet I naturally started cooking healthier for the family. At first the changes were little and unnoticeable. I started making desserts sweetened with honey. I started finding healthier recipes that we could all enjoy. I lessened the amount of bread and grains I included at every meal. I never threw anything out, I just replaced it with a slightly healthier version every time it ran out. I believe that this started changing their taste buds little by little.

After about 6 months I had gone through all the steps myself and felt absolutely amazing. It is not an overstatement to say that it was changing my life. The results were so obvious that my husband got on board too. HIS results became even more obvious, to the point that we both wanted to get our two children to eat this way too.

At this point my toddler was eating “relatively” healthy and had a lot of things he liked to eat that were grain free and low carb. However he still wanted some sort of grain at every meal and most snacks.

I started by emphasizing higher protein and grain free snacks every chance I could. I very slowly lessened how many grains and sweeteners he had every day. Finally, the day arrived when I determined we would cut out all grains. It wasn’t a huge overhaul of how he was eating at this point because of how much I had already changed his diet. However, it was still a big change for him.

He went through withdrawal and became very fussy and irritable and tired. He didn’t want to eat anything I gave him except for fruit (he was trying to match the glucose high he had been used to with grains). I let him have as much fruit as he wanted and constantly offered vegetables and meat but he ate very little of those. He was very hungry and frustrated. He went to bed hungry.

This was really hard for me and I almost caved in. I felt like on some intrinsic level I was failing as a mom by letting my child go hungry. But I wasn’t. I was offering healthy alternatives I knew he liked, he just didn’t want any of them at the time. I also knew that what I was doing was best for him in the long run. At this point I was very glad I went through this change first because seeing the results in my own life gave me the resolve to stick it out.

After about three days of crabby behavior and refusing to eat anything I made something switched. All of a sudden he ate a whole plate of meat. And some veggies. And was happy and energetic. He began eating that way at every meal.

The transformation astounded us. He changed from a crabby toddler who averaged 2.5 major tantrums a day to being a sweet, fairly reasonable boy who loved life and embraced flexibility with maybe one meltdown a week. The change was truly amazing. And the frosting on the (grain-free) cake was that having to deal with less tantrums made my life even better!

He now eats almost everything I give him but even if he doesn’t I don’t press it. Now that everything in our house is healthy I let him have as much of, or as little of, anything he wants. The only thing I watch out for is honey since too much of that and he starts to get crabby again.

Even though I spend more time preparing food I find that overall life is much easier now than it used to be. He is much less picky, eats what I eat, there’s no more battles over dinner, and I never worry about if he’s getting enough nutrition. Mealtimes are smooth and happy and I feel confident that he is getting the best start in life possible.

I imagine that the older a child is the harder it would be to change their diet (not that hungry toddlers are not scary, they can just be controlled easier!). It would probably require an even slower transition but the flip side is that they can be reasoned with a bit more and the value of healthy eating explained. I have already started to teach my toddler awareness. If he goes to a birthday party and eats some cake (which I happily allow) but then feels crabby or tired after, I’ll gently talk to him about it and make the connection for him (but I never make him feel bad for enjoying it!). Over time I hope he will learn to do that for himself.

The older my kids get the less I will be able to control what they eat and I am perfectly ok with that. My goal as a parent is to teach them the best way to live, provide the tools, and be there for support and encouragement when they succeed – and when they fail. I will continue to cook healthy at home but I will let them make their own choices when they are apart from me. At the same time I will continue to teach them awareness and educate them about health.

I guarantee that when they are at college they are going to eat ramen, Oreos and have cold pizza for breakfast. I mean, it would be unnatural not to. But my hope is that they will figure out for themselves, earlier than I did, the value of being healthy. Not only that, they will know how to go about starting it and have confidence that it will work because they will know what it feels like to feel healthy. At the very least, I know that feeding them this way now is giving them the best start in life possible.

So here are some tips I’ve learned:

  1. Start changing mom’s, and if possible dad’s, eating habits first. This gives you motivation, resolution, sets an example for them, and just makes you feel a lot happier and energetic -making everything in life easier.
  2. Make a S-L-O-W transition. Don’t even announce that you’re making a change! Just make it a natural part of your life, and as they see you eating healthier they will think it is natural to as well. This also gives their taste buds time to adapt.
  3. Teach awareness and educate them about health. Do this gently, subtly, and full of grace for when they make the unhealthy choice. Invite them into your process. Being too strict now is just going to lead to more rebellion later.
  4. Have reasonable expectations. Eating this way goes against the grain (pun intended this time) of our society and they are just children with limited reasoning skills after all. If they are resistant, don’t underestimate the value of your example and how eating healthier at home still sets a course for the rest of their life.