Picky toddler? Kitchen Cafe is open for business!

Welcome to all the new ‘likers’ and followers of Taste Buds! It’s great having you along for the ride, and great knowing that there are so many people out there who are interested in picky and fussy feeding, feeding and eating problems, breastfeeding issues, tongue tie, and everything else feeding and eating related!

This is from a post I put on Instagram a while back now, and I thought it’s worth showing it again because it was so popular.

It’s a simple idea that works well for lots of picky toddlers who immediately say “NO” as soon as the dinner plate is put in front of them. Dinner time can be a battleground if you have a fussy eater. Toddlers crave power and control, and the more out of control they feel, the more determined they can be to get it back. They can feel powerless at mealtimes when a plate of food is put in front of them and there is the expectation to eat it, and their easiest way of getting power and control back is by saying “NO”.

So it’s a tricky balance. Ellyn Satter is a well regarded expert in the field of picky eating and mealtimes. She writes often about the Division of Responsibility and her mantra is “Parent provides, child decides” and what this basically means is that it’s the parent who decides WHAT FOOD and WHEN the child eats, and the child decides HOW MUCH of that food they will eat.

It’s a simple mantra, and it works. But the practicality of day to day life, meal after meal, can get in the way. What do you do if your toddler says “NO” at every meal? And all of a sudden it’s bedtime and they haven’t eaten a thing all day? And then they wake up at midnight crying for a sandwich?

So here is a tweak on how you can still follow the mantra, but make sure your child has a high chance of eating food at the meal. And it’s all based on the idea that your child thinks they are in control, when really you are! *cue evil laughter*

So how does it work?

The 'Kitchen Cafe' is basically a visual menu that you stick up in your kitchen where your toddler can access it (stick it on the bottom half of the fridge, on the pantry door, a cupboard etc). The example in the picture is for snack time, but the concept can be used for meals just as easily.

How it works;

  • Firstly, grab a piece of paper and a pen. Draw three boxes on half the sheet.

  • On the other half, draw some little pictures of various foods that you serve at your place. You don't need to be a great artist - kids are surprisingly forgiving of terrible drawings.

  • Now here is the key à make sure you draw some preferred foods AND some less preferred foods too.

  • Cut them out.

  • Stick them up with blu-tac next to the half sheet with the 3 boxes. The idea is that three of those food pictures will get stuck in the boxes to indicate which foods will be served at the meal.

You can skew it in your favour, depending on what you are aiming for. And regardless of how much of it is chosen by your child or by you... you control what pictures are available so you're still (secretly) the one in control.

For kids who are oppositional to any foods you put in front of them – watch their face when you let them pick the foods that they want on their plate, no questions asked. Watch them wriggle with glee! But we know who's really in control here.

And the trick to making it work is to have a mix of preferred and non-preferred foods. And make sure, if it’s a mealtime, that the preferred foods are a good ‘filling’ food so that if they eat nothing else at least they’ll have a full belly. I tend to put up 4 pictures to fill 3 boxes, with two preferred foods and two non-preferred, so that there’s no option but to pick a non-preferred food for the plate.

For extreme picky eaters who are only slowly learning about new foods using a learning plate - you can draw a plate alongside the boxes and either let them pick the food they'll put on the learning plate or you can put a picture on there so that they can see ahead of time what it's going to be. It's a great way to increase exposure to the new foods in a very gentle, non-sensory overloading way. And for some kids, just knowing that there will be a new food nearby & being okay with that is a good first step.

We love our 'Kitchen Cafe' at our place. The opening hours are long and the cook is underpaid but at least the menu is interesting! Do you do something like this at your place? What food would your toddler pick every single time if you let them? (At the moment, ours would be cucumber!)

If you give it a go, let me know how it goes in the comments below! And have a great Easter break, everyone

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