How do you make sure that your picky eater’s eating pattern doesn’t rub off on siblings?

Got more than one kid? Changes are you’ve got a “good” eater and a “not-so-good” eater.

And you know how sibilings are: Sometimes they want to differentiate themselves; sometimes they want to be the same.  Either way, siblings are always influencing each other.  (And when it comes to making YOUR life more difficult, siblings are always a team.)

That’s why I was thrilled to get this question from Lily.  Lily has 2 children, ages 4 and 18-months.  Lily says the 4 year old is pretty picky.  The 18-month old?  Not picky…yet.  But she’s picking up the vibe.  “Yuk.”  “Eww” “Gross.”

Lily writes:

How do we allow one child the freedom to express how she feels about certain foods without setting up the younger child to have the same negative thoughts about those foods? The younger child is starting to become very particular herself. I’m not sure if she is picking up those signals from the older child or if she happens to feel the same way.

The answer is, forget about the food and forget about free expression!  Here are 3 lessons I recommend you teach your kids instead.

1) Be Polite

Parents are inclined to give their picky eaters a pass on what they say about food, but I say, Don’t Do It.

Opinions?  Fine.  Outbursts?  Not fine.  A simple, “No thanks,” will do.

Being polite at the table isn’t just considerate to the chef, it’s courteous to other diners.

“I’m sure you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings but I worked hard on cooking this. If you don’t want to eat it you don’t have to, but let’s be polite.  And remember, other people at the table are enjoying their food. Let’s not make them feel bad about eating it.”

Learning this lesson won’t just help innoculate younger kids against the contagion effect, it’ll help ensure your kids get invited to eat with others when they’re older. Manners matter.

2) Difference Rocks

This isn’t a food focused lesson; it’s a life lesson. We look different. We have different ideas. We wear different clothes, enjoy different sports, and yes, eat different foods.

Point out food preferences that no one can feel bad about: “I like chocolate ice cream. You like vanilla.”

Empowering difference empowers kids.

3) This is Just a Stage.

“You just have not tasted it enough times yet” is a great way to frame food preferences for young children.

“I didn’t like rice when I was young. Now I love it. That’s why it’s important to keep tasting.”

Encourage pea-sized samplings of everything, and instead of asking for a thumbs up or a thumbs down review, ask your children to compare different foods:

  • “Is this chicken as spicy as the chicken we had last week?”
  • “Do you think this apple is as crunchy as the pear?”
  • “Does this smell like your dad’s old sneakers or the flowers in the garden?”

It doesn’t even matter what the questions are. The goal is to engage your children’s curiosity (and train them for scientific inquiry). If tasting is too much, engage the other senses first.

Read Nix the NegativityUnleash Your Toddler’s Inner Food Critic! and Teach Your Way Out of a Picky Eating Problem with Sensory Education.

Finally, don’t take your kids’ likes and dislikes too seriously.

Don’t be held hostage by your kids’ taste buds (or their assessment of their own taste buds).

As long as you provide something at every meal that you can reasonably expect your kids to eat (i.e. they happily ate it two days ago) feel free to cook what you want to cook. It’s not selfish. It’s the only way you can give your children the time they need to roll the idea of eating something new around in their minds.  Read Let Your Kids Sit with Their Own Struggles.

Remember, kids don’t have stable taste preferences.  They don’t always know what they like. What they do know is what they’re willing to eat. And you can shape that…not by focusing on food, but by focusing on habits.

Read What “I don’t like it” Really Means and The Easy Way to Solve Your Toddler’s Decision to Suddenly Refuse Certain Foods.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~