Picky eaters parents unite! We had our twins in daycare for the first 1 and 1/2 years of their lives and they always said they ate really well for the lunch meal - which would be a variety of meals throughout the week. BUT at home, we were lucky if we could get them to eat a chicken nugget. I never thought I'd be "that" parent that would argue with my toddler to eat a chicken nugget...or at least take another few bites of one.
I know I'm not alone in this battle. If you're reading this and am shaking your head in agreement - I feel your pain, guilt, anxiety, everything in your efforts to get your child (or children) to eat. I'm not an expert in this field, but I have tried a few things that have seemed to make mealtime a little less stressful.
Breakfast and lunch I let our twins decide what we eat. Our youngest eats pretty much anything and I usually have a protein shake for lunch so this works out well. I will say they have turned into creatures of habit and will want the same thing for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast usually is a nutragrain bar (they can pick apple, blueberry, or strawberry) or waffle or whatever dry cereal they're digging (as of late it's been corn Chex). Some days they want a little of everything, and I have no regrets about letting them have a second breakfast bar because I know they're growing and could be eating worse.
Lunch is a little different for us. Because they're usually on the same page for breakfast, we don't have much turmoil but for lunch, I'll alternate days letting each of them pick what we eat that day. It's usually an alternating schedule of grilled cheese, turkey brats, taquitos, or we may even have breakfast for lunch when I realize we are out of cheese. I'll also give them a choice of two vegetables and two fruits and let them pick which we have with lunch. This empowers them to make the decision and if they throw a fit while eating, I'll be able to tell them that's what they wanted.
I've found that by involving them in making the choices, we don't have as much of a battle as we would when I'd just make something and tell them that's what we were having. Don't get me wrong, there are some days I can't get one twin to eat grilled cheese, but she'll eat an entire can of mandarin oranges if I let her.
For dinner, I'll make one meal (knowing they probably aren't going to eat more than 1 bite of the meat protein) but will make sure to include items I know they'll eat. To keep things easy on me, I'll usually give them a few smaller bite sized portions of the meat protein we're eating along with the same fruits and vegetables we had at lunch. I also make sure that we're all eating as a family...and eating the same thing.
Desserts are tricky. I don't like bribing my kiddos that if they eat one bite of chicken, they can have an Oreo, but in reality if that's what it takes to get them to try the chicken, I'm all for it. I do try to choose my words carefully, however, when they ask for an Oreo or dessert when they haven't tried their dinner. I'll tell them we can have dessert when we try our chicken and the choice is theirs. They can choose to try a piece of chicken or not. They don't have to try it, but they need to know if they choose not to, they're choosing to not have dessert either. I also try to keep my calmness during this struggle at night. I don't get angry if they say "no" or "eww" and tell them that's ok, but I still would like it if they try it.
On the flip side, if we're having pizza Friday's and I know they'll eat pizza, I will absolutely give them a cookie on their plate when we sit down to eat. They will probably eat the cookie first, but they know they'll have to eat their pizza after and there's no big "thing" about dessert.
As we head into a new year, I'm hoping to get more meal into rotation at our house, but I'm not going to stress out about it. I'm going to get the kiddos more involved in picking meals and showing them healthy options by making them myself. In the end, it's not worth the stress or fights at mealtime as long as I know I'm trying...and so are they.