Tips to Try with Your Picky Eater
Parents, have you ever come home from a long day and spent the last of your energy preparing a healthy meal to feed your family, only to have no one touch it? You are not alone, and believe it or not, it is developmentally normal for kids to go through a picky eating phase. The key is to make sure this behavior remains a phase and not a habit. As frustrating as it can be to watch our hard work go down the drain, it is not all a waste. Even when your children are not eating the foods you prepare, they are still being exposed to them. Watching you model eating healthy foods ultimately has an influence on them, even if it does not seem to in the moment.
As a dietitian, and a mom, I have seen and felt everything you are going through. Here are some tips to help get you through this difficult phase and ensure your kids come out the other side of it better eaters.
1. Do not push trying a new food. Instead ask questions about it. What does it feel like? What does it smell like? Is it soft or crunchy ? Do you like that texture or not? Would you like it if you could dip it in sauce?
2. Encourage your kids to get involved in making and playing with food. Building meals is a good way to do this. Set out bowls with each topping and let your children make their own dish. Even if they do not try all the ingredients, they are still being exposed to them and it gives you an opportunity to talk about foods they might not normally eat.
3. Make food fun! Use snack time on the weekends to cut shapes in new food. You can play with making a food into different textures for example cheese grated vs. cubed. Use toothpicks with images of your kid’s favorite cartoon characters on them and stick them in new foods or foods that have been refused in the past. Set this time aside as play time, not eating time, so there is no pressure around your kids eating the foods. This will help to make the activity a positive experience rather than a battle.
4. Go to the market or farmers market as a family. Let your kids each pick out one food to try at a specific stand or aisle. For instance, you can choose a fruit or a vegetable stand and tell your children they can choose anything they would like to try from there.
5. Try to avoid too much snacking or grazing. This will fill your child up. If your kids are going into a meal full, they are less likely to be willing to try something new at mealtime.
6. Continue to expose your child to foods they say they do not like. Even if they do not eat it, they are gaining familiarity with it. If you are concerned about food waste, use the build your own concept discussed above to expose your children. That way you can save the food for later or model putting it onto your own dish without it going to “waste” on your child’s plate.
7. Always put one safe food on your children’s plate. This gives you confidence your child will get something they will eat at the meal. If you are adding foods your kids have said they do not like or have never tried to the plate, reserve only a small portion of the plate for these items.
8. Eat together as a family. The more your child sees you eating these foods and enjoying them the more likely they will be willing to try them.
9. If you are worried about your children getting enough nutrition, sneak nutrients into “safe” foods. Pancakes, oatmeal, macaroni or sauces are great foods to add vegetables, protein or seeds. Blend a cooked yellow squash or cauliflower into the macaroni and cheese sauce or add hemp or chia seeds to pancake batter to make it more nutritious. Keep in mind you do not want to hide all new foods or vegetables. Your children will never be exposed to them and will be less likely to choose them later on if you hide all healthy foods.
Feeding our kids can feel like a second full-time job, but you do not have to do it alone. Take advantage of some of the brands and websites who have made things a little easier for parents. We love Kidfresh, this frozen kids food brand incorporates vegetables and whole grains into popular kids foods such as chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Some of our favorite websites for kids recipes and food activities are Weelicious and Superhealthykids. Remember, your job is to provide the food and expose your children to it, not to force them to eat it.