I would love to start “Parents of Picky Eaters Anonymous” due to the number of times I see frazzled parents with concern about their child’s eating habits or parents who have just given up to the “chicken fingers and peas/corn/broccoli” option. But giving in or giving up, while understandable, does not have to happen. Stay relaxed, every meal is not going to be enjoyed or appreciated by your child/children, and the last thing the table should become is a battle of wills;-)
Here are ten ways to help picky eaters become healthy eaters
- Let them choose the menu; by getting them involved with the choice and making of meals, children may be more interested in trying new foods.
- Get them involved in shopping for healthier food items.
- Model good eating practices and emphasize those habits when hanging out with family and friends who eat healthily.
- Serve a meal and allow picky eaters to take just two bites of any new food. It often takes children to try a non-sugary food 10-13 times before deciding they like it.
- Your child may be tired or have had too many snacks. Almost all children will eat when they are hungry, but don’t wait until a child is too tired to feed them; opt for earlier meal times and fewer snacks throughout the day.
- If possible, serve healthier vegetables that are more palatable before opting for “kid-approved” veggies like corn and fries. Adding high nutrient-density vegetables like spinach or red peppers to sauces can quickly be done. Frozen chopped spinach can be cooked, drained, and pureed into pesto. Red peppers can be roasted and pureed into red sauce. Making “chips” by roasting veggies with grapeseed oil and garlic salt can be another delicious way to add veggies to the day. Start with favorites such as corn, sweet potatoes (especially baked “fries”), sweet bell peppers, grape tomatoes, carrots, or milder veggies (such as jicama, celery, cauliflower) with a yummy dip, squash (fashioned as pasta is a favorite), and spinach (especially in a berry smoothie or homemade fruit popsicle)
- Make dips. Children often love to dunk food. Make ranch dressing with yogurt and sour cream, and let kids dip raw veggies as a snack or meal.
- Serve small servings; sometimes, a plate full of food can be overwhelming. A petite portion may make eating the new food more feasible for children.
- Ensure healthy snack options are available between meal times; peanut butter mixed with honey, raisins with celery/apples (ants on a log), guacamole, or hummus.
- Add veggies to favorites such as pizzas, tacos, or stews – even if you have to blend a small amount into a favorite sauce so that they can get used to the taste.
- Enhance the taste with herbs and spices and then emphasize the taste (sweet and sour, garlic, Szechuan, Balsamic, bbq, roasted, etc.), not necessarily that it is nutritious or beneficial for them (you can slide that in later). See supportive studies and ideas at https://sparqtools.org/edgyveggies-instructions/.
- Create fun around foods – learn what makes a food healthy, create a recipe, or rhyme with food. Look up fun ideas, faces on pizza, raw vegetable animals with dip, etc.
- Limit “treats” and certainly avoid using them as rewards.
Remember, diets in early life can shape how your children eat into adulthood. So many studies now guide us to the importance of establishing a healthy lifestyle to ensure wellness. (1)(2). Just keep in mind that no meal will make or break your child’s future health. Food should never become a fight!
As your child adopts nutritious eating habits, reiterate and discuss the importance of being healthy, the choices that go into remaining healthy, and how those choices can impact their well-being so they can continue to play and participate in their favorite activities.