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How do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?

I cringe whenever that phrase sneaks out of my mouth because I’m caught in that awkward life phase where I still remember being a kid perplexed at the dumb things my parents said but I’ve also become a mother exasperated at the stubborn, faulty and maddening logic of a picky eater.

Our one year old isn’t the issue; in fact, if anything, he’s a quarter chicken dinner away from weighing the same as our three year old. He’s the issue. He can pack away anything remotely resembling dairy, carbohydrates, fruit or chocolate, but unfortunately we like to try and sprinkle his diet with a bit of vegetables and protein and that’s when the battle begins.


We’ve tried everything short of hooking him up to a meat and veggie IV while he sleeps. We’ve bribed and punished, taken away toys and timed him out, and just had him sit at the table until bedtime because he wouldn’t touch a thing on his plate.

It’s exhausting. Frustrating. Pointless. Recently we started a new and easier approach. No, we don’t just make him his own meal every night. I mean, I’ve considered it, but it seems undoable in the long term. “Um, sure, we’d love to come to your dinner party but we do have one small request for our eldest son – can you please prepare an entirely separate meal with no items touching each other that is made up of hot dogs with the ends cut off, some white cheddar macaroni and cheese with one-third of recipe-recommended milk and some grated two year cheddar on top, three rice crackers assembled on top of each other, and some chocolate? Any chocolate is fine, we don’t want to put you out.”

We just put it in his court to eat well. We explained why it’s important to eat healthy – I mean, what we really said was ‘meat and veggies will make you big and strong like a tyrannosaurus rex’ – and then we just served him dinner. In each meal is at least one familiar yet healthy item and the rest is whatever we please.

Okay, so occasionally he doesn’t eat much and quietly slinks away after, and occasionally he doesn’t eat at all and leaves the table shrieking in certainty that he will starve (you know, those days when suddenly the same thing he’s eaten every day for over half his life is suddenly beyond “gross”). But on the whole, he eats more than before and has even been trying new foods. Plus, we don’t spend dinnertime arguing and can concentrate on talking about our days or putting out the other various fires parents encounter EVERY. WAKING. MOMENT. of our lives.

Pediatric nutritionist Sarah Remmer says this approach is empowering to both parent and child: “The child has some autonomy in rejecting foods and choosing what on their plate to explore, and the parents have the power to serve up only healthy foods. It takes a few days to establish the pattern, but in general you’ll find kids will eat well and try different things in their own time. Just never undermine the approach by allowing snacks or alternate items during or after dinner.”

So we’re in. And you could try it too if your latest method of dealing with a picky eater was to take away ‘hockey guy’, prompting a two hour war that would endure into bedtime, nightmares and the following morning (not that I know anything about that).

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