This is a reader story by Amy Artiga, a stay-at-home mom of two healthy eaters, ages 3 and 5. Amy also blogs about personal finance. If you’d like to submit your own real food story, you can do so here.
When our family switched to real food, both my husband and I lost weight. However, our greatest accomplishment was with our kids’ eating habits, especially my picky kid.
My firstborn is a very picky eater. As a toddler, all he wanted to eat was crackers, cereal, cheese, and milk. And of course sweets. At his very lowest point, there was only one kind of produce that he would eat. I knew that at the rate he was going, he would be one of the stereotypical overweight, pre-diabetic kids that are becoming the norm here in the US.
I had to do something, but what? I couldn’t force him to eat good food, but I could take away all of the bad food. So that’s what I did.
It’s been several years, and we’ve gone through seasons of great progress and seasons of almost no progress. It’s been very trying at times, and I’ve been forced to be creative. But it has been worth it. Now in kindergarten, my son eats a variety of healthy foods that would make any parent proud.
How I Did It
Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried countless ways to get my son to eat better. Some were great successes and others were epic fails. And some worked wonders for a season before he lost interest.
Here are a few things that worked well for us:
- Eat the Rainbow
For about two months, I got my son to try to eat the rainbow every day. We got a notebook, and on each page, I would draw a rainbow in pen. He would get to color it in as he ate produce of different colors. He would rather eat foods he didn’t particularly like than have a rainbow that was missing a color. It did wonders for expanding the variety of produce he ate.
- Take Advantage of Summer
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a short summer growing season, but the produce is delicious during that time. If there is ever a good time to try new foods, it’s when they are at their peak during summer. There are a number of foods that my son was willing to eat fresh off the plant (pea pods) or from the farmer’s market that he wouldn’t eat from the grocery store. Once he got used to eating them during the summer, he kept eating them year round.
- Eat 100 Foods
When he was older, I challenged my son to eat 100 different foods. We got out a notebook and wrote the numbers 1 to 100 on the lines. Each time he ate something different, he added it to the list. He tried a lot of things for the first time that he normally wouldn’t have just so he could add them to the list.
- Play with Your Food
It’s amazing what kids will eat if it looks like a frog or a ladybug or a sailboat (pictured on the right). We even made booger eggs (he would eat his boogers but not eggs, haha) by turning them green with a little spinach and adding a lot of cheese to make them stringy.
- Pair New Foods with Old Favorites
For a long time, the only way my son would eat most vegetables was with cheese. He has since been weaned off the cheese, but it was a great way to get him to try them. Using the same method, we successfully introduced chicken, fish, and scrambled eggs into his diet by adding them in small doses to his favorite thing – quesadillas. Now he eats those things on their own.
- Be Consistent
If you are consistent, your kids will eventually accept your healthy ways as the normal way to live, and what you tell them will become their truth. My kids don’t question the fact that they’re supposed to eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal. My son is fully convinced that even though he may not like something now, he will like more and more things as he gets older, so he is willing to retry things from time to time. And the kids don’t even beg for junk food in the store because they know we don’t buy it.
It’s taken time, but I’ve been amazed at the progress I’ve made with my picky eater. If you have one too, don’t give up. Picky kids can eat real food if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.
10 thoughts on “How I Got My Picky Kid to Eat Real Food (Reader Story)”
Any ideas for an older child of 13? She eats cereal, mac n cheese, cheese quesadillas and toast. She likes nutella. No veggies. The only fruit I’ve seen her eat is cherries and grapes. She likes raisins and bacon. She doesn’t eat any meat. She will eat scrambled eggs. Help!!!!!
Nice blog and some fun ideas. We did really well until my kids went to public school. Now they are inundated with junk and things that many people think are healthy (like chocolaty granola-like bars and “juices” with HFC). They get confused with the mixed messages about what is really “healthy”. Plus their tastes have changed and they look for more sugary things. We still do ok at home, but I’m guessing a few people here can appreciate my frustration. I like the rainbow idea, though — and this is a good reminder to keep the stuff I don’t want them eating out of my house. Worth the effort.
These are all such great ideas! I love them all!
I wish I had started our journey to Real Food earlier in my son’s life. Unfortunately he was about 10 years old when I started and it has been a real struggle, he is 13 years old now and I fight and argue with him almost everyday about cutting out sugar, and trying new foods – it doesn’t help that he is a very stubborn child. But I refuse to give in or give up, I am determined to make him a healthy eater and hopefully by the time he’s on his own he’ll be eating healthy!
I’m in the middle of this with my 3 yr old. Everything that isn’t a grain is “wucky”. On the few occasions he has ventured out and taken a bite of something, he spitold it out. He knows when the “game” I play us just a ploy to get him to taste something, and he just won’t fall for it. I’m at my wits end, here.
Thank you so much for sharing! I am in that exact same place right now with my youngest – he used to eat a bigger variety, but now he just likes grains – waffles, muffins, crackers, granola bars. Granted, I try to make those things more healthy, but it concerns me that he doesn’t eat more produce. I know I just need to be more consistent, and I keep reading and hearing that kids will eventually eat what we give them…I just hate that middle stage where I am trying to introduce new foods to him but I don’t want him to not eat!
Thank you for this! I printed out some rainbow outlines and hung them up on the fridge. It’s been so helpful already! My daughter is asking me right now “what’s green that I can eat?” Thanks for sharing your ideas. :)
Hi – I enjoyed your blog and can completely relate. I have a son with Crohn’s Disease who needs to be on a very strict elimination diet. I had to cut out all grains, gluten, sugar, dairy and preservatives from his diet. Believe me, this was no easy task. Everything as you know has sugar and preservatives in it these days. But the good news is that through this diet (called the SCD Diet), he and thousands of other with IBD are now in remission – so the diet works! But, its the hardest for the kids on these special diets, who have to navigate bake sales, sleep overs etc.
I am so passionate about the effectiveness of the diet that I started a company to create fast, fun healthy food for kids (pizza, chicken nuggets, enchiladas etc.) that is all grain, gluten, sugar and preservative free, It’s called Caleb’s Cooking Company (www.calebscookingcompany.com). Caleb (my son) also started a club for kids with chronic illnesses on special diets called Caleb’s Club. It’s a pretty cool space.
I love the idea of eating the rainbow, I can see how that would help a lot! It’s a very clever idea.
This sounds so similar to my experience. It has definitely been and up and down kind of experience, but I was amazed that little by little as I removed the processed food options form our house my son started eating healthier options. I was convinced he would refuse and starve, but not so. We are still plugging away and far from perfect but better, definitely better.
Good for you!
Re the farmer’s market, we planted a bunch of cherry tomato plants, strawberries and raspberries in our backyard, with the idea that our kid would pick them to snack on while playing there. It worked. Well, the ants got the strawberries, but the raspberries and tomatoes were high yield and low maintenance and a constant source of healthy snacks.