The Picky Eater's Guide to Getting Your Kids to Eat

Our world has served us up a huge array of options, and we has parents get to choose what we’re going to put on our plates – and what we’re going to pile on to our kids’ plates, too. Many of us wonder if we’re doing it right (while the rest of us are just trying to shove some sort of food into our kids’ mouths and be done with it altogether).

Getting your kid to eat doesn’t have to be stressful. It doesn’t have to leave you feeling like a failure. And it doesn't have to be according to someone else's rules, either.

I’m going to give you a run-down of what we do in my home to minimize food battles, keep our kids full and (mostly) healthy, and take emotions completely out of the dinnertime equation.

Are we 100% successful? Not at all! But here’s what our kids (ages 3.5 and 1.5 respectively) have been brave enough to taste--and sometimes even gobble up--in the past few months:

  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Brown rice
  • White chili w/beans
  • Salmon Patties
  • Green Smoothie Muffins
  • Hatch green peppers
  • Purple oranges (blood oranges)
  • Tahini mac n' cheese (though I'm not recommending this recipe haha)
  • Quiche
  • Oatmeal
  • Homemade pizza
  • Lasagna
  • Cauliflower rice (fried w/meat + veggies)
  • Salsa soup
  • Salad
  • Breakfast burritos
I want to get straight to the heart of the issue, but if you're looking for practical steps to implementing this yourself, you can snag my personal guide at the end of this post. It will be your new best friend to help you turn mealtimes into chill affairs (instead of the usual emotionally-charged battle zones they tend to be).

Set aside any guilt or worry you have, mama, and let’s move forward together. I’m not here to judge – I’m here to offer you a lift out of the crazy that the world has given us when it comes to food.

Here are the two questions that you have to ask yourself to get to the heart of why there are picky eater's in your home, and what will set them free to love food again:

Question #1: What are my eating habits? 

If you barely eat breakfast, find yourself mid-morning snacking, then forget about lunch, wind up eating something on the road, and feel too stressed + busy to eat dinner, it’s not much of a leap to say that your kids aren’t going to be getting a clear message about food.

If you want them to eat good at mealtimes, then you have to eat good at mealtimes. If you want them to learn to value time together over dinner, then guess what? You’re going to have to be present at that table, too.

Make sense?

Just don’t put unrealistic expectations on your kids if you’re not willing to model that behavior yourself. And please listen, I’m not here for the guilt! I’m not here to tell you to get on a diet or create the perfect monthly meal plan! This is all about creating simple rhythms that you and your family can follow together to keep you balanced and healthy. If you want more guilt-free advice on this, this episode was so encouraging and insightful into the topic of women's health!

Question #2: What do I actually want to teach my kids about food?

See, we get swept up in this crazy cycle of assuming that it is our job to make sure our kids ALWAYS:

  • Have full bellies
  • Want healthy options
  • Eat whatever is put in front of them
  • Don’t complain, whine, or resist mealtimes
  • Eat whenever we need them to
But these should all be a by-product of the main goal, not the goal itself. I didn’t even realize this misalignment till a few weeks ago. I just kept thinking, “My kids need to eat. End of story.” It became about control, obedience, and not wanting to deal with their emotions. But the real answer?

My kids need to know what value to place on food.

That’s it. Every other food-related decision boils down to that concept. Do I want my kids to treat food as something cheap, easy to get, and unimportant? Do I want them to snack their way through life, because food is an emotional crutch for us? Do I want them to eat whatever they want all the time, or actually learn to notice their body’s hunger cues and nutritional needs? Do I want them to get used to eating on the run, or learn to enjoy all the flavors God put in our food?

These are real, valid questions, and you can’t wait to answer them till your kid is older. All of this healthy stuff starts right now, no matter the ages of your kids.

For a few more intentional questions and a simple run-down of my mealtime rules, sign up below to get Guide! It will be your ticket to cutting emotions + stress out of mealtimes, and getting your head straight when it comes to what you really want for your kids.

If you still have questions after checking out my quick guide below, feel free to shoot me an email! I’d love to know if you’ve found anything that works especially well, too – we mamas gotta help each other out!

Finding Abundance (Especially When Things Are Scarce)

Do things feel scarce to you, lately? Have you been clutching onto something from the past that you hope will make this time a little easier to handle? When things feel scarce to us, we tend to think that the good parts of life are missing.

But scarcity is actually a mindset – not a reality.

We slipped out of the house, sunshine and spring air beckoning the two of us into the great outdoors. My husband and I were sporting REI cargo pants and flannel shirts and some water, and that was it. No large backpacks, no diaper bags, no strollers, no kids. That’s right: we were scot-free as we walked off into the woods.

How to Unshackle Yourself from Unhappiness

It always starts with a craving. It seems harmless enough. For me, it was an intense desire for greasy, Pizza Hut pizza…at 9:30 in the morning (I do have the pregnant excuse, you know).

Wanting things isn’t bad. The problem just comes when we can’t have them, right?

With the quarantine in place, it feels like there’s a lot of things that we can’t have all of sudden. Funny how it opens the door to more wanting than ever before, a craving that never seems to be satisfied.

Think for a minute about all of the things you “lost” when this virus stuff began. Maybe it was your freedom, or your normal grocery items; maybe it was all the time you spent with your friends; maybe it was your job; or maybe it was your feeling of safety and purpose and happiness.

Did you know that there are people out there who don’t get to have those things on a normal day, whether there’s a worldwide pandemic going on or not?

There are people who can’t go and buy chocolate whenever they want. People who don’t have cars, who have to walk to the market to get their food. People who live in small communities and don’t have friends outside of their family. People who don’t even know where their next meal is coming from.

There are people living in poverty and prison and hopelessness EVERY SINGLE DAY, who can’t plan their futures, who can’t protect their children from bad things, who can’t get enough to eat, and who don’t know a way out.

We women in America are only just getting a taste of what that really is like. But we still want more, don’t we? If we’re honest, we want to ask God for things right now.

I was hardcore craving that greasy pizza, man. I was even tearing up about it. We live a good 35-45 minutes from town, I have 3 tiny tots to take care of, and there’s a shelter-in-place order going on. But dangit if that didn’t make me want that pizza more.

Am I so used to getting what I want all the time?

We reward ourselves often, just like we reward our kids. Maybe your kids made it through grocery shopping without whining, or maybe they ate a really good dinner, so you treated them to something special. These are fun rewards that show them that good choices can have really great benefits! But if we do this often, kids start to assume that they deserve to get something extra for good behavior. And if the reward isn’t there? Well, then, they won’t try as hard next time. Because it wasn’t worth it.

Our rewards are no different. We expect to get certain things throughout the day, and if God doesn’t hold up “His end" of the bargain, then we get to be upset and worried and frustrated and angry.

That’s right, you’ve been giving yourself lollipop rewards, too. You just didn’t realize it.

The cookie dough you munch on during naptime. The phone call to your friend, complaining about your kids’ behavior. The wine you grab as soon as the kids are in bed. The quick drive-through trip because today was just too much for you, and there’s no way you’re making dinner tonight.
Have you been using lollipops to get you through life, or Jesus? Have you been walking with crutches, or running free?

Only you can make that heart-call.

If God is all we need – our fullness of joy, our daily bread, our living water – then why isn't He the reason we are still standing at the end of the day? Why is coffee our savior, instead of Jesus?

We have to burn up our wooden crutches in order to depend fully on rock-solid God. You can't stand on "faith and;" if there's something else tacked on to your faith, holding you up, then there is no need for faith at all. Leaning on crutches means never having to lean into suffering, hardship, pain, frustration, or anger, and find out that God is at the bottom of it.

You either need crutches or you need God.

In our moments of craving, can we to throw down our earthly crutches and walk like Jesus-followers who know real fullness?

Whatever is shackling us to a crippled life needs to get the heck out of the way.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” // 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Is there a crutch in the corner that you're always reaching for? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you some of your crutches that you've been leaning on instead of Him.

The next time you’re tempted to reach for something easy, something to cover up the pain or make things feel better in the moment, ask yourself:

  • Do I really trust God with how things are going?
  • Will I be okay if I don’t get that thing I want? And if not, why?

Taking away the lollipops feels scary, and sort of radically unnecessary; there’s a good chance that those crutches have become part of your identity. The good news is, God has already started doing that work for you – look at all the things He’s slowly taken from us during this quarantine! But I can guarantee you that replacing the things we thought we needed or so desperately wanted with Jesus will be entirely worth it. He will fill you with a joy that no lollipop reward can ever produce.

Let’s live victorious, not shackled.

Something to Listen To:

Shackles by Mary Mary
Rescuer by Rend Collective

Ways You Can Help Those In Need:

Compassion International
MercyHouse Global
Your local church!