Every parent dreams of a dinner table painted with colors from each food group, warmed up and ready to serve to the family. Then you hear it, “Yuck, I don’t like that.” Not every child is as accepting of trying new foods as we’d like them to be, but with time and patience their taste interests can expand. Here are our top five tips for expanding your picky eater’s palette.
Tip 1: Get your child involved in your family’s food decisions. Offer options and allow them to voice their opinions. Give them some control over what they eat because food should never be a power struggle. The good news is that kids inherently want to be healthy. They want to feel good and to be able to run around with their friends all day, so start by making a list of all the foods they like. Assure your picky eater that even if a recipe contains something they don’t like, such as mushrooms or broccoli, it can be modified.
Tip 2: Include your child in the food preparation and cooking processes as much as possible. This requires some “letting go” as a parent. Yes, the preparation time will be slowed down, and you can be sure of a mess at the end, but it’s all worth it. If they can see cooking as fun and creative, they will also see food that way. Cutting sandwiches into shapes with a cookie cutter might just get them to eat one. Also, don’t fool your kids. If they ask what’s in a dish, answer honestly. There are some fabulous recipes out there from chocolate cupcakes to banana bread that use vegetable or fruit purees to increase the nutritional value and reduce the fat.
Tip 3: Try to reduce over-snacking between meals, and keep post-meal snacking off limits. There are tons of healthy and delicious snacks on the market today, including dried fruit, bars, fruit purees in squeeze containers, yogurts, smoothies, cheese sticks, kale chips, and fresh produce. Peanut butter, a protein powerhouse, is a great fallback for picky eaters. Granola is good way to add fiber to dessert, such as ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Tip 4: Determine what food consistencies your picky eater likes and make that your launching point. Often it’s not the foods that they are averse to but rather the consistency. Carrots are a good example. Many kids love raw carrots and won’t touch a cooked one. They might not eat chickpeas, but they love hummus, or vice versa. Never overwhelm the picky eater or push too hard. Avoid bribes or rewards for eating, but don’t give up offering healthy foods no matter how many times they are rejected. Tastes and consistency predilections can change with time and with the influence of their friends and family. Maybe once a week, try something new that is just beyond their comfort zone, but always make sure there is something on the plate that they will eat. Also, try to introduce new foods in a calm environment, not a bustling restaurant or at a screaming melt-down dinner.
Tip 5: Explain to your child why a particular food is good for him or her. You might have to do a quick Internet search (that would ideally involve them) to learn the benefits of certain foods. For instance, protein helps build strong muscles and gives your brain power. Calcium forms strong bones. Vitamins and minerals are critical for healthy cells, tissues, organ functioning, and preventing sickness. Omega-3s in fish fuel the brain. And, complex carbohydrates from whole grains give long-lasting energy to run and play. Keep it on their level and encourage questions. Learning why we should eat a variety of foods is just as important as eating those foods. It is never too early to teach kids about making healthy food choices.
Catherine Jones is the award-winning author or coauthor of numerous cookbooks including The Calories In, Calories Out Cookbook, Eating for Pregnancy, and Eating for Lower Cholesterol. She is the co-founder/CEO of Werbie, LLC, a startup connecting women and technology, and a co-founder of the nonprofit Share Your Calories. She is a blogger and freelance journalist. www.caloriesinandcaloriesout.com
Elaine Trujillo, MS, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She co-authored, with Catherine Jones, The Calories In, Calories Out Cookbook and Eating for Lower Cholesterol. In addition to authoring the textbook, Nutritional Support in the Care of the Critically Ill, she has written various nutritional science-related journal articles and book chapters.
For more healthy eating tips for the family, take a look at these other reads from Together Counts!