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How do I get my four year old to eat real food?


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My four year old has a fear of "real" food. All he eats is tyson chicken nuggets, oatmeal, pizza and cereal. He throws a fit if I just put the real food on his plate. When I make him just try a tiny little peice, he puts it in his mouth and then gags until he throws up. I don't want to make food an issue but I can't take this anymore. I am tired of cooking for them, and then for us. What do I do? Any advice would be appreciated.

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to the oatmeal you could add: peanut butter (healthy fats and protein), berries, yogurt, milk, eggs (stir in an egg just after the oats are cooked and he'll never know it's in there) and more.

to the cereal you could add: milk, fruit, nuts or yogurt.

for the pizza: you could either grind up some veggies and add it to the sauce (if you make your own), or order it/make/buy it with tons of vegetables ontop, and also opt for whole-grain crust.

for some calcium, you could also give him chocolate milk. it's higher in calories and sugar, but still has tons of much-needed calcium and nutrients. you could also freeze yogurt cups and give them to him as a "dessert" or snack.

some kids are even influenced by presentation of food. maybe you could make him a smiley face or a car out of different fruits and vegetables.

you could also try fruit smoothies with milk, a little yogurt and whatever fruit(s) he likes.

good luck!

also, if he still refuses to eat what you give him.. just let him know that that's what's being served and he can either eat it or go hungry for the night. eventually, he'll give in.

my mom used to make the best meatballs ever (she still does)  she used to sneak SPINACH in them without me knowing!!!!!  Maybe sneak leafy greens into chopmeat and put it on top of his pizza (you can hide it under the cheese); I also like the idea of may puree'ing real tomoatoes for sauce.   Erica sounds right;  he has to eat sooner or later; becuase he'll just be starving.  will he eat mac and cheese?  My mom made her own and it was jam packed with calcium.  Trying to think of fun foods for you!!!  You can also make chicken nuggets yourself coating them with ground cereal fortified with vitamins.  It may take a little while longer; but you never know!! 
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I am a mother of three and I have learned that your children learn their eating habits from you.  The best thing to do is keep eating right and eventually they will want to try what u r having.

Also stop cooking the nuggets and offer other foods and let your child know that this is what we r having for dinner.  Kids will eat when they get hungry and not just the things they like.  It will be a little crazy for a while but the eventually get with the program.  This I've learned ffom experience.  My house use to resemble a food dinner with the different meals I was preparing everyday but now the have learned mommy is only cooking once, better eat now or be hungry later

 

Original Post by darice_73:

I am a mother of three and I have learned that your children learn their eating habits from you.  The best thing to do is keep eating right and eventually they will want to try what u r having.

Also stop cooking the nuggets and offer other foods and let your child know that this is what we r having for dinner.  Kids will eat when they get hungry and not just the things they like.  It will be a little crazy for a while but the eventually get with the program.  This I've learned ffom experience.  My house use to resemble a food dinner with the different meals I was preparing everyday but now the have learned mommy is only cooking once, better eat now or be hungry later

 

This is completely right in my opinion.  I have two children, one aged 4 and the other 2 and they both eat pretty much everything, including salads and olives and mushrooms and all sorts of other food that people find unusual for kids to like. 

The only way to get children to eat is to lead by example and not offer a choice.  I don't subscribe to this whole "hiding" of good food.  I think that children should grow up knowing what they are eating and appreciating it for the lovely food that it is.

In my house we try to make meal times fun instead of battles.  If they don't eat everything on their plate they don't get the scrummy pudding but it's fine to leave the table.  If they really like the pudding they usually manage a few more mouthfuls to get it!

Also my kids like to be very "helpful", so if yours is similar (which I'm sure he is), maybe you could get him to help you in the kitchen while you prepare the meal.  He can pass you the carrots, put the peelings in the bin, get the peas out of the freezer and pour them into the pan, help lay the table etc.  I've found that if they take an active role during the preparation they are more likely to enjoy the end result.

Taking that one step further, if you have the room then maybe you and you boy could grow a few potatoes and carrots and tomatoes etc.  Tomatoes are great as they don't take that long to grow and your son can see them getting bigger and riper everyday.  And all kids seem to like treasure hunts and digging so imagine the fun that could be had looking for root vegetables. 

So in summary as I do tend to natter on, Keep it fun, Keep him involved, and Don't offer a choice.

Good luck.

Thank you all for the great advice. I hope to soon try only offering what we are having for dinner. That way, I am not cooking nuggets once, and then dinner for my husband and I later. Right now it is kind of hard becauce baby comes awake in the late afternoons early evenings and husband doesn't come home until 6:30-7:00. So it is awfully hard to deal with my eight week old, plus the other kids, plus getting dinner ready. (excuses, I know). I should have dinner ready the night before. HOWEVER, right now I am so tired. It is sure hard to deal with the tantrums and gagging down a bite until he pukes. I just don't know if I can do it. But I am so tired of nuggets and pizza for them, then something else for us later. So I think I will try it. Might as well do it in the summer.

Any advice about the trying a bite of something different, (he'll usually only try it to get dessert) and then gagging on it? I HATE that. He actually makes himself puke. What do I do about that?

Lulu,

I have the same issue with dinners in that most night hubby doesnt get home until almost 7, so what I started doing was on the nights that I could cook something that can easily be heated for hubby and I, I just go ahead and prepare it for my daughters dinner and then heat it up later for hubby and me.  Otherwise, I make a slightly larger meal for hubby and me and she gets leftovers the next day for dinner.  We do try to eat dinner together as a family a couple of nights a week, but it mostly depends on hubby's schedule (he is always off Fridays, so we always eat together then).  My daughter is not a big eater so some night she takes one or two bites (or no bites) and says she is done and thats it... nothing more.  As for desserts, I have never followed the whole if you eat your dinner you can have dessert thing.  Sometimes she gets it and sometimes she doesnt, and dessert is usually just yogurt or fruit anyway so still healthy. 

Ignore the puking, its to get your attention, just clean it up without too much fuss, and you could always say something like, oh well, you threw up, you must be sick, so better not give you dessert because it might make you throw up again, be very matter of fact, and then move on, the more you react to the throwing up, the more it will continue.

 

Good luck!

 

Good luck. I have found kids tend to out grow it.  But, until they do it is a pain.  My youngest is 6.  All he eats are chesse sandwiches, pizza, pizza rolls, chicken nuggets if they are shaped like Dinos, corn dogs,  then of course your typcial Icecream, cake, cookies.   Oh and Spam.  Lets not forget the spam.  If Im not cooking anything he will eat then I have to cook spam for him.  

He will occasionally eat a strawberry, or grape.  He likes raisens and pineapple only half the time and at any given moment, a favorite food can become hated.  He use to love hot dogs, lunchmeat and peanut butter but not anymore.  Personally, I think he does it just to make my life harder.  But, hey.  To each his own I guess.

It would help if I could get his father to eat everything I cook without gagging everytime he finds out I hid some kind of vegetable in the food without telling the kids.

How do you feel about spaghetti?  You can make a relatively healthy version and most kids actually like it, especially if you make it with bowties or other smaller noodles that are easier for them to eat.

My nephews were always picky eaters with their parents, but when I had them for the weekend they ate whatever I was eating most of the time.  Probably because I didn't understand the code words they used to refer to whatever wierd kid food they were used to.

You could also see about getting a kid's cookbook and making the items that you like out of it.

jessica seinfeld created a great cookbook called deceptively delicious and it has yummy recipes for disguising healthy fruits and veggies in kid friendly food. 

Some other tricks i use are cutting out fun shapes, letting them help cook and create meals, a little cup of dipping sauce helps too.  Make up fun names for foods, like broccoli is baby trees, he loves pretending to be a dinosaur eating the trees.  Or, asparagus is magic swords (its now his favorite veggie) 

Just keep giving him new foods to try all the time or else you'll cement his eating habbits even more. 

Original Post by mamatanya:

jessica seinfeld created a great cookbook called deceptively delicious and it has yummy recipes for disguising healthy fruits and veggies in kid friendly food. 

Some other tricks i use are cutting out fun shapes, letting them help cook and create meals, a little cup of dipping sauce helps too.  Make up fun names for foods, like broccoli is baby trees, he loves pretending to be a dinosaur eating the trees.  Or, asparagus is magic swords (its now his favorite veggie) 

Just keep giving him new foods to try all the time or else you'll cement his eating habbits even more. 

 Jessica Seinfeld also got sued by the publisher of another woman for copyright infringement.  If your going to go with a book go with the Sneaky Cheif by Missy Chase Lapine.  I always prefer the origional to reguergitated info thats only getting attention because some celebs wife is attached to it.

 

I too suggest not buying another bag of chicken nuggets.... I know that they are easy and you are oh, so tired but you are truly causing yourself more trouble in the long run.

You say that your son does the crying/gagging/fit throwing at the table?  Just tell him he does't have to eat dinner if he doesn't want to.  You are responsible to put the food (good, nutritious food) on the table and he is responsible for eating it.  If he chooses not to, that his deal.  He'll be hungry at the next meal for sure, where again, you provide good, healthy, life-giving foods.  Do this now and he'll be used to it later.  If you go on with the junk food dinners, that's what he'll expect.

And, as far as it goes with the 8 week old, you are almost out of the woods with the baby too.  Seems to me at three months they sleep better and are on a much more predictable schedule.  Hang in there.  Do easy things now, use your crockpot, make salads for dinner (yes, even for your children!), break out your blender and make some yogurt smoothies with fruit and a little protien powder.  Use paper plates for goodness sake, if it will save your sanity!  I give you permission!

Jenny, mom to six - 14 yrs. down to three months ;)

We have had similar problems off and on with our now 3-year-old son. We also use most of the great tips and techniques (ok, tactics) already mentioned here and, for the most part, they do work!  We all sleep later than normal (I work nights, and husband goes to bed late because he "can't sleep" until early morning), so our son goes to bed a bit later than is typical for most children (so he will get his 10 to 12 hours' sleep and will sleep later and let ME sleep later after working all night).  So, he and I eat a late "breakfast," which I cook (and he readily eats) and make sure that it is something healthy and balanced.  Luckily, he likes many "breakfast" things that fall into this category.  I don't always cook him lunch per se, and allow healthy snack-type things throughout the afternoon (which "snacks" are what he really wants anyway, not a formal "meal," but I do make sure they are healthy), such as apples, fresh berries, lowfat string cheese, lowfat yogurt, natural PB on whole grain crackers or homemade breads, sliced home-cooked grilled chix breast, etc.   Fine, no problem. 

Dinner has become problematic.  I cook a healthy, balanced dinner every night.  He predictably has things he likes and things he will not touch.  We do not enforce a "clean plate" rule, but he has to take at least 1 bite of everything on his plate, or no treats, no desserts, for the rest of the night (except for his "night milk," which he gets right before bedtime).  (We eat dinner a bit later than normal, too, around 8p).  If he gets hungry later, he gets "his supper back."  If he eats enough of it, then he can have the treat.  After a few wars and tests of will, he got it, and it has worked beautifully. 

I also agree, don't make a big deal about the gagging.  Don't make any deal of it.  Just clean it up and, as suggested above, tell him that if he is sick, he certainly doesn't need any dessert that might make him sicker!  Depending on how sensitive your child is, you might mention how hard you worked to cook a nice dinner for him and how it hurts your feelings when he does this.  For our son, "hurt feelings" are way worse to him than any type of "punishment."  If he merely wants attention and doesn't understand or care that it's rude and wrong and hurtful, then this might not work.  (My son does this, too, but not to the point of gagging.  He makes a downright sour/distasteful face, wrinkles his nose, says "I don't like this," without even tasting it, and then tosses the item back down onto his plate with great disgust).  Frown

Also, if you aren't already, make an effort to strictly limit or not allow snacks at least an hour or two before dinner.  This, also, has made a tremendous difference in our success with getting him to eat the dinner AT THE DINNERTIME.  LOL. 

It's well worth the benefits in the long run of establishing rules and expectations and not catering, IMO.  It can make you gray and then bald in the process, but it's important.  The last thing you want is for your 4-year-old picky eater to turn into a 35-year-old picky eater (like my husband).

 

If you child is of average size (not too big/too small e.g. the pediatrician is not worried about his size) I'm all for the having the take it or leave it rule. (worked for me as a child, works for our daughter who also happens to be 4).  Cook healthy and if they are hungry they will eat.

If you child has a history of reflux (projectile vomitting, his pediatrician IS concerned regarding his weight; complaints of pain  in chest after eating) than this is a more complicated issue.  Consider going to the pediatrician and asking for a feeding therapy evaluation.  Done by either/or a speech therapist or an occupational therapist with hopeful inclusion of a dietician.  There may be physical and or sensory reasons you child is picky.

That all said... I for one do not like the-- you get dessert if you eat all of your food.  Surely a child shouldn't get dessert without having dinner... but dessert shouldn't be a reward.  Dessert is for special occasions and should be a rarity  offered only when a child has other adequate nutrition.  Otherwise... dessert is a privalege, given to make us happy, held higher than other foods when cherished -- and will lead our children down our same path of issues with weight/food/calories ;)

Original Post by ciosa1020:

That all said... I for one do not like the-- you get dessert if you eat all of your food.  Surely a child shouldn't get dessert without having dinner... but dessert shouldn't be a reward.  Dessert is for special occasions and should be a rarity  offered only when a child has other adequate nutrition.  Otherwise... dessert is a privalege, given to make us happy, held higher than other foods when cherished -- and will lead our children down our same path of issues with weight/food/calories ;)

 I agree with this in theory and, though we don't have a dessert after every dinner, there is never a dessert offered or allowed on a day when our son has not eaten well, meaning I prepared healthy meals/snacks and he either did not eat it or only ate his favorite thing out of what was offered and ignored everything else (and then generally asked for something else later). 

I will say, too, though, that I grew up obese.  My mother would rarely, if ever, allow me to have sugar items, candy, cake, ice cream, Kool-Aid, real chocolate milk, etc., stating "too much sugar" as her reasoning.  However, she then made meal after meal of all-fried foods, and I routinely ate things like a dinner-size plateful of melted Velveeta nachos, bacon cheeseburgers, and entire Totino's party-size style pizzas as afterschool snacks, after having eaten a full packed lunch, and then having a full dinner a few hours later, and usually a bedtime snack after that. 

So, what did I do?  As soon as I was older and able, I started eating any and all candy, cakes, baked items, desserts, full sugar drinks, etc., anything I got my  hands on, in massive quantities.  I don't know for sure if feeling "deprived" of these things during childhood contributed to this, but I have always felt that it did.  This is why we allow our son to have these "treat" items in strictly controlled moderation, as long as he is regularly eating other nutritious items that are provided, and make sure these make up the bulk of his diet.  I am very proud of the fact that my son will choose fresh apple slices or a low-sugar/lowfat yogurt and a PB on whole wheat over a hot dog or cheeseburger and fries every day of the week.  It makes me feel, and at least hope, that we are doing something right to keep him off that path I went down.

jdbcmt, my mom never let us have any candy or stuff either. But she did cook healthy. However, wheneve there was candy around or cake, we would all wolf it down because "wow, we never have it, lets eat it while its here" mentality. I remember going over to my friends house who had a candy drawer. It was just a drawer full of candy that she could eat whenever she wanted. The thing is, she never really wanted that much because it was nothing special to her. Just something that was always laying around. I, on the otherhand, would go crazy in her candy drawer.  Candy was the forbidden fruit and darn it, I was gonna eat it while I could.

I guess my point is that although my kids usually are only allowed healthy stuff, I do have some "temptation" around. I want them to learn to value the healthy stuff and to choose that most of the time. However, I know that in life some people will have that candy drawer around, and I want my kids to know how to handle stuff like that. I guess I feel like if candy and junk is totally "forbidden" then they will always want to choose that instead of healthy stuff.

Long story short, (too late!) I am also a proud mama when they choose apple dippers over french fries and yogurts over fruit snacks.  I am still working on the real food with my four year old. I am starting with putting it on his plate along with nuggets or whatever else is on his "short list". Its a step.

When I said,

"If they don't eat everything on their plate they don't get the scrummy pudding but it's fine to leave the table.  If they really like the pudding they usually manage a few more mouthfuls to get it!" 

I didn't mean that they had to eat every single morsel, I merely meant that they had to give it a good attempt.  And puddings in our house usually consist of yoghurts or fruit.  That's not to say that they don't sometimes eat cake.  As a cake-maker by profession they do but it's all good homemade stuff.  

Anyway, people seem to have jumped on that so I just wanted to clarify the point.

My son is now 15, but was like that when he was younger. His issue was he was sensative to the texture of food in his mouth. The good news about that was I didn't have to worry about him choking on things.  I did the hiding and also used mixing. Rice was one thing my son ate, so I made a lot of rice based dishes.  Another was to make more fun food.  I set out dips (soy sauce, ketchup, ranch dressing...) and let him dip vegetables etc in them. He had more fun eating.  The ultimate solution for him was to go to a day care where they had hot lunches. When everyone else was eating it, he was more likely to also. 

Jump to the teenage of today. He still is not crazy about onions cut up in food, but will now eat tomato. Yes he struggled almost choking many times but put forth the effort. I did not force, but encouraged and praised even efforts. 

Overall, have fun. I bet your son is cute as a button. Enjoy him.

i think all lil ones are that way lol. My 2 year old has alot of food he wont touch, jus states he doesnt like it. But everyonce in a while he will taste something, and half the time he likes it and half the time he doesnt, but at least he tried it.

I also recently tried making my own "chicken nuggets" (egg dipped strips of chicken in bread crumbs, baked) and he wolfed em down! *Yay no more prefried frozen ones!*  I make him "pizza" on whole wheat bread with a little bit of cheese and tomato sauce. I put tomatoes on his grilled cheese. Its not hiding.  I make homemade bread with pumpkin and nuts, since he will eat anything that is bread lol.

 

Original Post by fyrfli:

I also recently tried making my own "chicken nuggets" (egg dipped strips of chicken in bread crumbs, baked) and he wolfed em down! *Yay no more prefried frozen ones!*  I make him "pizza" on whole wheat bread with a little bit of cheese and tomato sauce. I put tomatoes on his grilled cheese. Its not hiding.  I make homemade bread with pumpkin and nuts, since he will eat anything that is bread lol.

LOL.  I am also not a big fan of hiding.  Expand your horizons.  I cooked it.  It's good for you.  Life is hard sometimes.  Just eat it.  Laughing Of course, the logic is flawed because he's in control, obviously, of what he eats, not me.  All I can do is offer it and limit other things when he doesn't "just eat it." 

I also recently started making homemade baked fish nuggets using tilapia filets and crushed multigrain cereal w/ a little grated Asiago mixed in.  Man.  So much healthier than fish sticks, and my son will eat the fool out of these (mom does, too).  I've done it with chicken breast, too, but he likes the fish better.

Oh, well, about the hiding.  Except oatmeal and whole wheat flour.  I put it in EVERYTHING I can.  Cookies, homemade breads (that he calls "mommy bread," and asks for it constantly when it's here), pancakes, muffins, etc.  And he eats it and asks for more.  So, ok, yeah, I'm okay with hiding some things.  Wink

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