5 Tips for Feeding Picky Eaters
I still remember the day I finally succeeded in getting our oldest daughter to eat broccoli.
I tried every possible preparation: steamed and topped with homemade cheese sauce, chopped into (TINY!) pieces and mixed into salad, and even pureed into mashed potatoes. Finally, after months of trial and error, I landed upon the winning dish: a simple Chinese-style stir fry with rice. Victory at last! (Now, about those beets…)
We all want to prepare delicious and nutritious meals for our kids, but what if your child simply won’t eat certain foods, no matter how many different ways you prepare them? If picky eating habits are one of the most challenging aspects of family mealtime, rest assured that you are not alone! Instead of picking up the phone for takeout, try a few of these tips to help encourage healthy eating habits at your house.
1. Make Exploration Easy and Approachable
Kids love having options, and they learn by using their senses to explore. Try having a tray of healthy options available in the fridge and let them choose what to snack on when they are hungry. Be sure to include lots of colorful options (think fresh fruits and veggies like sliced strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, apples and even boiled eggs). You can use a muffin tray to separate different foods, and add dips and spreads like hummus, peanut butter, salsa or guacamole in the extra cups to encourage them to try new flavor combinations.
2. Introduce Simple Swaps
Subtract some of the scare factor of trying new foods by pairing them with or adding them to some of your child’s favorite dishes. Instead of a traditional macaroni and cheese, create a veggie-based sauce with pureed broccoli or cauliflower, or prepare a fresh pasta salad with chopped veggies that uses the familiar elbow macaroni shape. Swap out fries and mashed potatoes made with white potatoes for those made with more nutritious sweet potatoes. Instead of sugar-packed chocolate milk in the morning, try a yummy smoothie made with bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate almond milk.
3. Set a Good Example
Studies show again and again that children mimic the eating habits of the parents and siblings, so be sure to set a good example–if you complain about eating spinach, they will too.
Part of setting a good example also includes sticking to the rules of the household when dinnertime rolls around. Don’t become a short order cook – each child should NOT get his or her own meal based on their preferences. Be firm, but don’t beg or barter to get your child to eat; oftentimes the more you push, the more they will resist. As this New York Times article explains: when pitching veggies to kids, sometimes less is more.
4. Get Your Kids Involved in the Kitchen
Getting kids involved in the process of selecting and preparing healthy foods is one of the best ways to encourage lifelong healthy eating habits. Allow kids to have a say in the family’s weekly meal plan, and take them shopping to pick out fresh foods from the grocery store or farmer’s market. There are tons of valuable lessons to be learned in allowing your tiny chefs to work alongside you in the kitchen, too–from measuring, mixing, and dicing, to meal timing and combining flavors. A few other great hands-on ways to get your child engaged with food: plant a vegetable or herb garden or make veggie art!
5. Keep Calm and Healthy On
Feeding your child a healthy diet is important, but not every meal will be a win. Luckily, most children grow old of their picky eating phase eventually, so try not to take it personally when they reject your fabulous quinoa salad or flat out refuse to come within 10 feet of anything green for an entire month. Of course, if you are seriously worried, make an appointment with your family doctor. Otherwise, stay positive and keep putting healthy foods on the table. Soon enough they will not only eat it–they will like it!
Need a little help getting your child to participate in mealtime? Our cooking classes and camps are entirely hands-on and engage kids in the process of cooking their own meals from scratch.