Everyone knows a child who has been labeled a “picky eater.” You know, the kids who refuse to eat anything green or who demand macaroni and cheese for every meal. I prefer not to call my own children “picky eaters,” but I do know that they are both selective in what they choose to eat. When you have toddlers, it comes with the territory.
I don’t claim to be an expert at getting my children to eat healthy foods. I often make nutritious dinners that they flat out refuse to eat. However, I do have a few tricks that are useful in getting my highly-selective children to eat new, healthy foods.
Here’s how I get my kids to eat:
1. Give Them Options – Now, I’m not saying to let them choose whatever they want to eat and become a short-order cook (or I would always be feeding my 3 year old macaroni and cheese). I’m saying, give them option on your terms. Since I serve my children what my husband and I are eating at dinner, I let them choose between 2 fruits as a side dish (served alongside the main course and veggie). Also, when my kids come grocery shopping with me, I allow them to choose 1 or 2 fruits and veggies they would like to try that week (from the options I present them that are on sale). When kids feel like they have some say in what they eat, they are more likely to try what is on their plate.
2. Let Them Help in the Kitchen – Depending on the child’s age, this could mean a variety of things. Since my kids are toddlers, I let them experience the kitchen in safe ways. My 3 year old helps me sprinkle peppers and onions on top of a pizza before I slide it into the oven. My 1 year old holds a wooden spoon while sitting in his high chair watching me stir spaghetti sauce. We start small, but they love to feel like the kitchen is a welcome place for them.
3. Continue to Put Healthy Foods on Their Plates, Even if They Don’t Eat Them – It’s so hard for me to see my kids waste good, healthy foods (especially if I have paid a premium for fresh/local/organic food). I always cringe when they chew on something only to spit it out or throw it on the floor. However, I have read that it can sometimes take around 10-15 exposures for a child to even try a new food. It took my daughter almost 6 months to decide that she LOVES dried apricots and prunes. So I continue to put healthy foods on my children’s plates (even the ones that they have specifically said they don’t like) in the hopes that one day they will change their minds.
4. Make Foods Fun – I have also heard that allowing young children to play with their food encourages adventurous eating habits. So as much as I want to scold my 3 year old for smearing yogurt all over her face and arms, I allow it (at home) and hand her a wet washcloth to clean herself when she is finished. I try to encourage food fun with less mess by offering scoopers (graham crackers) and crunchies (cereal, granola, etc) with yogurt parfaits. My children also enjoy dipping veggies in organic/natural ranch dressing and chicken “nuggets” in homemade honey mustard.
5. Don’t Keep Junk in the House – This one is simple, but it’s a commitment the whole family has to be willing to make. If the junk food isn’t in the pantry, the kids (and grown ups) will eat the healthy options when they are hungry.
**BONUS TIP** – We have a few go-to songs that we sing when the kids try new foods. “Try It You’ll Like It” and “Party In My Tummy” from Yo Gabba Gabba are both fun and catchy for kids to sing. Also, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has an episode about trying new foods, and the characters sing a short jingle saying “We’ve gotta try new food ’cause they might taste good.” My 3 year old likes singing along and sometimes even asks me to put on our Yo Gabba Gabba cd so she can listen to “Try It You’ll Like It” while she eats. Whatever works!
Do you have any special tricks you use to get your kids to try healthy foods? Please share…I’m always looking for good ideas!