Written by Doctor G

A picky preschooler? Of course!

As far as eating goes, she’s willing to at least try different foods before claiming she doesn’t like them. Her food staples are primarily breakfast foods: cereal, pancakes, French toast, croissants, eggs, cheese, potatoes, etc. And of course, chicken nuggets and fries. What frustrates us the most is when she was younger she would eat ANYTHING we put in front of her. But this current phase she’s in seems like it has been going on FOREVER.

Jesseca, in New York City, NY

A: Pickiness! I feel your pain. “She used to try everything!” is such a common refrain from parents of 2-4 year olds. Don’t worry, your adventurous eater is still in there. She is just hidden under a protective layer of normal developmental stubbornness.

Your daughter has figured out two important facts.

First of all, repetition is comforting. Just like she wants you to read the same book 1.2 million times, watch the same video again and again, hear the same song on the radio (internet?) over and over, she has realized that she likes eating the same few foods repeatedly.

Secondly, she has learned that, unlike most things she “decides,” you can’t really argue with her about her tastes. What and when she eats, sleeps, and uses the potty are the only things she has any real control over. At the age when autonomy (control of self) becomes the driving force behind her every statement, she is searching for those situations in which she can be the decider. I swear, my son woke up every single morning of his 2 year old year thinking, “Maybe I’m the boss TODAY!”

For some kids this picky eating thing lasts months, for some it is years. I can’t tell you when it will end. I can however, give you a few suggestions from a mom who has been there and suffered through that.

1. Only try one new food per meal. Assuming you are following the usual 1 grain, 1 protein, 1 vegetable pattern that I attempt for at least one or two meals a day, make sure that 2 of them are familiar and acceptable to your daughter. Don’t run the menu by her (too much power) but you know in general what she’ll eat.

2. Don’t argue with her about the new food. But if she wants seconds of the familiar foods, she is going to have to finish the new food first. This way, no argument. You make the expectation clear, and she gets to decide if she is done eating or if she is willing to be brave. Don’t get suckered though, and give her the chicken nuggets as a “snack” 30 minutes later when she is hungry. Drag the new food back out and let her use hunger as a motivator.

3. Vegetables as appetizer. When the kids are hanging around the kitchen while we make dinner, we put vegetables on the table for them to graze on. They don’t have to eat them, but often hunger will overcome their resistance.

4. If you go out to eat, ask the server to bring the vegetable out right away (they are usually pre-made so it’s ready immediately) and to wait to bring the sweet drink that ALWAYS comes with the kid meal until after the food is served.

Be strong! You can teach your daughter to eat a balanced diet without every meal being a battle. But it’s going to take a while!

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3 thoughts on “A picky preschooler? Of course!”

  1. This is so neat to see the rules stated in words. For the past nine years I have been watching you and the rest of my children show your incrdible parenting skills on the six boys. I see it at work all the time for those folks out there who question whether they work. They do.

  2. Natalie, I know your son is only recently two. I hope when you feel he has hit a developmental stage to understand your rule and learn to believe it, that this will be helpful to you!

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