Because you always have them, they take 60 seconds to heat up in the microwave and you can throw some ketchup on there and life is good. A little cup of yogurt or applesauce on the side and dinner is served!
Maybe its not chicken nuggets. Maybe its PB&J. Maybe its hot dogs or ravioli. Not true at your house? Congratulations. Maybe you are a gourmet and have all the time in the world to prepare different meals, but I think you get my point: we can easily create preferences and behaviors (not just preferred foods) out of our habits and what is easiest to us at the time. We often don’t even like the effort of thinking of something different to serve. It makes complete sense, just don’t blame it on your kid or call her a “picky eater.”
Another way we teach “learned pickiness” comes from what you do after your son refuses the turkey tetrazzini you worked so hard on (or added water to, stirred and waited 15 minutes). Long day at work, kids are tired and you really do not want to send him to bed hungry, although you have said time and time again that you will. You also don’t want to experience the tantrum or hear the whining. “OK, you can have your applesauce” is your bail out. You know it is a bail out when you do it. Your son just learned, again, he will NOT go hungry and will get that applesauce, even if he did not get that dessert he wanted. It was worth it to avoid trying that noodle-stuff.
You want to fix the “learned pickiness?” Buckle down and bring the preferred foods, just don’t serve them…yet.
Don’t serve the whole meal at once. If you do, here is what usually happens: 1) you give him his food and tell him to eat, 2) he complains and whines, 3) you tell him, “ok, you only have to eat 3 bites”…and so on. Doing it this way not only teaches them that whining reduces the amount of food they have to eat, but also makes mealtime into a negotiation. Not good for anyone.
At this point, the goal is NOT to get them to finish the plate (not likely). The goal is to get them to accept and eat something they previously didn’t want to eat. Start with one “unpreferred” food per meal. The rest should be things he will eat and a highly preferred food.
Make very small portions of the unpreferred. Take “bite size” and cut it in half.
Present only a small bite at a time on his plate (that is all he sees). I’m talking about a plate with a small piece on it…that’s all. Let him know he can have the preferred food (that he can see) as soon as he tries that bite. High-five, praise and immediately present a small bite of the preferred (not all of it) and repeat. If it is a “spoonable” item, just make a spoonful and put it on the plate. If it is not, just put a bit on the plate. YOU control access to the preferred food. I don’t want you to have to take the preferred food away (which is why you present it in small bits).
Wait out the tantrum if you have to. Don’t talk a lot. Don’t tell them why, don’t try to coerce them. If this lasts for an incredible period of time, come back to it later (not having given any food in the meantime).
Again, the point here is NOT to get him full or to knock out an entire helping of Tuna Helper, it is to teach him that eating new things isn’t that bad. Stay focused on that point and do so slowly. You can quit after 5 or 10 “new bites” then go back to old faithful. Don’t overdo it. Slowly introduce more and more required to get the preferred food. Small and slow. Increase this with success. Don’t give in. Hunger is an OK thing.