I love food. As long as there’s no fish, fennel, or seaweed in it, I will probably like it. I love vegetables and Chinese food and more vegetables and pretty much any kind of dessert that doesn’t taste like black licorice.

My kid likes food, too. He likes carbs, cheese, and sugar.

I am also a connoisseur of parental anxiety. I appreciate the nuances of a bruise and can immediately turn one into a diagnosis of malnutrition with only the powers of my brain. And that parental anxiety simply thrives on the average graph at the doctor’s office that tells you your kid is smaller than all of the children in all of the land. I mean, how else would I convince myself that my kid is suffering from something I heard about somewhere that one time?

Hello, everyone. I’m Lauren, and my child is a picky eater.

The tips I’m about to share are not for the kids… they are for the moms and dads who watch the cousins eat ham, potatoes, eggs, carrots, and broccoli at the family Easter get-together and want to go hide in the bathroom. For the parents who have heard, over and over, “Yeah, well back when I was a kid I ate what was on my plate, even if it was a poisonous scorpion that would surely kill me and everyone I loved!”

If you’ve ever bought a bag of “veggie straws,” watched triumphantly as your kid scarfed them down, then read the ingredients and realized that “veggie straws” are actually just potato chips with a little veggie powder tossed in… and then dropped to your knees and dramatically shook your fist at nothing… these tips are for you. I’m also going to tell you that they may or may not work.

I’m going to tell you there’s no way that all of them will work… but if you’re one of those “picky eater parents,” you know that just one, JUST ONE of these might work, and that no one can take that moment of supreme joy away from you.

(I should also throw in that I am in no way a doctor, nutritionist, or parenting guru, and my word should not be taken as medical advice or anything like that. I’m just a lady, sitting at a computer, wishing I had brought a cup of coffee with me downstairs.)

1. Memorize the phrase “You don’t have to eat it, but…

What I’ve learned on this exasperating journey is that going all Rambo on a kid who won’t eat is about as successful as trying to, well, beat up Rambo. It’s just not going to work without someone feeling a lot of pain, and you’re probably going to end up feeling like crap. When we say “All right. Well, you don’t have to eat it, but that’s what I made for supper, so I’m not going to make something new,” we have been known to have a little success. Something about taking away the forcing seems to work.

2. Stock up on fruit.

Sometimes the end of the aforementioned phrase is “… but you can have as many grapes/apple slices/clementines as you want.”

Now, I’m sure there are a few people shaking their heads thinking, “Young parents these days, they’re too soft. What is this word coming to? What does YOLO mean?” To which I reply, I think the world is probably going to be just fine, and I didn’t know what YOLO meant til probably July of last year, and also FRUIT IS FIBER AND FIBER LESSENS THE OCCURRENCE OF CONSTIPATION. I know that the kid should be eating his carrots, but he’s not. He’ll eat a bowl of grapes, though, and I’m calling that a win.

3. Get a blender.

Sometimes I provide a dinner alternative, which I know is breaking the cardinal rule of “not making a separate dinner for your kid.” But this dinner alternative is usually a green smoothie. The smoothie has at least a half cup of spinach in it, half of a carrot, water, honey, and frozen fruit. If my kid is consuming half a cup of spinach while not crying at the table, I’m just going to sit there happily and enjoy my dinner. My favorite website for smoothie recipes is Simple Green Smoothies, and most of the recipes are really tasty.

4. Give ‘em a little of what they like.

Sometimes the day gets crazy and I heat up leftovers for my husband and me, and a box of mac and cheese for the kids. In these situations, I give them a little mac and cheese, and a fruit option. When they wolf down down those sweet, sweet cheesy noodles and ask for more, I say, “You’ve got to eat all of those apple slices first. Then I’ll get you some more.” The brilliance of this is that you have avoided both the I’m-starving-my-child-guilt and stuck to your guns. Win/win.

5. Try making pizza with a cauliflower crust.

I did, and it fooled him long enough to get about five bites in before he realized he didn’t like it. That’s 5 bites of cauliflower, you guys.

6. Pack snacks before family events.

When you’ve got a picky kid, holiday meals can get pretty miserable. You have to deal with a hangry kid who won’t eat anything, and the judgement from a few choice family members. I’m telling you right now, a big family event full of new(ish) people and a lot of pressure is not going to be the magical venue in which your kid suddenly has a roast beef breakthrough. I remember sitting in a back bedroom with my crying son for almost 30 minutes over a clementine. A damn cutie. He refused to eat it. The next week at preschool? Totally ate a clementine, no big deal. Bring some boxes of raisins or a few ziplock baggies of something you know they’ll eat, and give yourself the chance to enjoy the occasion.

And if none of these things work?

My best suggestion is to put on some headphones, listen to a guided meditation instead of your screaming child, and start repeating this mantra to yourself:

“Tastebuds change. Science says so.”

“Tastebuds change. Science says so.”

“Tastebuds change. Science says so.”

Good luck.

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Lauren Bonk

Lauren Bonk is a freelance copywriter out of Omaha who's been wrangling family life and words since 2010. She always shows up with a healthy dose of optimism, a mug of coffee in her hand, and a solid high five. (But not too solid, because coffee is hot and that would be painful.)

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