You would never know from looking at him that Brenden has become a picky eater. It's not just a "growth spurt" or "phase" either, it's absolutely an "I don't want to eat that and you can't make me" attitude. Night after night we would bargain with him. Three bites of a food he didn't want to eat for something he DID want to eat, like a cookie or ice cream. Two more bites and he could watch Mickey Mouse. One night I even ate dessert in front of him. That was the most awful ice cream I have ever eaten. He was unhappy, we were very unhappy, and lots of time was spent sending him to time out or cleaning up food he had slung off of his fork in anger.
Then I ran across a blog about toddlers and how to handle picking eating. Some people claimed that picky eaters were "made" by parents that allowed their children to only eat one specific thing, such as peanut butter and jelly, every night. Others said that children should be introduced to all sorts of spices and textures early to allow them to develop a taste for everything. Since we were obviously past the "early" stage and we always required him to eat what we ate, we really weren't sure what to do.
Then, one day, we decided to just calm down and let it go. No, he would not be picking out his meals every night, but we would place dinner in front of him and he could eat it or not. There would be no more forcing and no more bribing. After a reasonable amount of time we would get up from the dinner table, clean the kitchen, and do whatever we were planning on doing that night. We thought removing some of the stress from the situation would be good for us, even if it meant Brenden might eat a little less. (Have you seen this child lately? He's not so chunky anymore, but he's not small by any means.)
The first week was hit and miss. We had to remind each other not to get upset if he sat there the entire time drinking his water and nothing else. One night he didn't eat a thing and requested oatmeal after dinner. Our reply was, "I'm sorry, you didn't eat dinner. No more food tonight." Okay...even typing that sounds harsh. We weren't doing it to starve him, we were trying to teach him that he was expected to eat what we were having for dinner. That happened once. Since then we've never had to say it again.
That's not to say that I haven't fixed him something different for dinner if it was really spicy, which he doesn't handle well, or I thought it turned out badly. And if he eats his dinner and requests to eat more afterwards we're okay with that as well. He's also had a few nights where he ate very little but didn't complain. The next morning he will usually eat twice as much cereal.
This does not apply at restaurants. If we don't have to eat the same thing as each other then why should he? Plus, he is learning to make decisions, which I think is good for him. For example, this past weekend we went to T.G.I. Friday's and he was able to decide between macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, pizza or a hamburger. He chose macaroni and cheese with mandarin oranges for the side. He practically licked the plate clean and was very well behaved. I'm glad we figured out what works best for him in that situation.
I also give him choices at lunch time. I watched my friend Heather G. do this with her daughter and I thought it was great. If he decides on a sandwich he is allowed to choose between peanut butter with honey or jelly. (He usually chooses honey.) If he chooses jelly he can pick between grape and strawberry. Then he is allowed to decide if he wants squares or triangles. One day he even told me he wanted "big triangles", which made me laugh.
Giving him a choice has made a huge difference for us, even if it is just the choice between eating and not eating. He's calmer and eats almost everything we give him. We're calmer and enjoy dinner so much more. Happy dinner times makes for a much happier family, and who doesn't want a happy family?