Need tips for picky eaters? You're not alone! It's one of our biggest requests. Try these 5 strategies to make healthy cooking for kids a little easier.
Let's face it, encouraging kids to try new foods can be a real challenge.
My little guy is (thankfully!) a naturally adventurous eater but I know that could change at any time as he gets into the thick of the toddler years. They like to keep us on our toes!
As parents, we want our kids to be healthy and get all of the nutrients their growing bodies need, but we also want them to have a good relationship with food and to avoid daily dinner time battles.
So what's a mom (or Dad!) to do?
Here are some tips for picky eaters and how to gently encourage them to explore new foods. Remember though, this is a marathon not a sprint and it may take a long time before a child actually accepts a new food.
1. Involve them in meal planning and cooking
Sure, it's the parents' responsibility to choose what's for dinner – after all, you don't want chicken fingers on the menu every night. But that doesn't mean you can't involve your kids!
Sometimes giving kids just a small choice, like whether to have broccoli or green beans with the salmon or whether to have ketchup or ranch as a dip, goes a long way in making them want to actually eat what you cook.
If you want to take it a step further, take your child to a farmer's market and let them really see, touch, and smell the different produce available. Encourage them help choose and try new things and show them that it can be fun! Purple cauliflower or a beautiful heirloom tomato might be all they need to start looking at vegetables in a different way.
Of course, getting your kids cooking with you in the kitchen is always a great way to encourage trying new foods too. They are more likely to eat something they helped make! Check out Kids Cook Real Food for tips on training your little sous chefs!
2. Avoid labeling them as picky
Even when it seems like they're not listening, children hear everything we say. No pressure, right?
Be careful about calling your child “picky” because they can absorb this as part of their identity and use it almost like an excuse. (As in, “I don't eat broccoli. I'm picky.”)
Instead, try saying something like, “her favorite food is mac and cheese right now, but we're trying lots of new things as a family.”
3. Serve a small amount
It can be overwhelming for children to see a big pile of unfamiliar food on their plate.
Try serving what might seem like an absurdly small portion of a new food to your child if they are hesitant about trying new foods. This may seem counterintuitive, but they are more likely to try it this way and you can always serve them more!
This will also help you avoid throwing away a bunch of uneaten food every night, which can be super frustrating.
Don't give up on serving them new foods altogether though. Kids sometimes need to be exposed to a food many many times before they will eat it.
Also, don't be limited by what kids are “supposed” to like. Your child may surprise you and love olives or mushrooms – you'll never know if you don't put a bit on their plate!
4. Serve deconstructed
This is one of my best tips for feeding picky eaters because it makes healthy cooking for kids SO much easier. Any food can be turned into “kid food” if you use a deconstructed approach.
While your child may not touch a chorizo veggie bowl, they might be much more open to a plate with a bit of chorizo, some rice, some avocado, and a few tomatoes. You can show them how you like to mix all of yours together and give them the choice.
Make sure there's at least one thing on their plate that they are comfortable with and like. This might mean adding some cheese or a tortilla to their plate.
Is it exactly what you're eating? No, but it's a lot easier than making a whole separate dinner, and hopefully will encourage them to try something new!
5. Don't make it a power struggle
Feeding kids can easily turn into an ongoing battle, but it doesn't have to!
At the end of the day, kids want choice. They want to feel a sense of control over their own lives. Even at a very young age, they realize that there are some things we parents cannot control. Food is one of them.
Of course we can (and should!) control what foods are available, but we cannot actually force our children to eat what we serve them. If we try, it only becomes a power struggle, and one we cannot win.
While it can be super frustrating to watch your child leave their veggies uneaten on the plate day after day, try to let go of the urge to control what they eat. All you can do is serve healthy foods and make it as fun and lighthearted as possible.
Share Your Tips for Picky Eaters!
Do you have any tips for getting kids to try new foods that have worked in your family? I'd love to hear them! Share your ideas and pictures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram as @prepdish in all 3 places, or leave a comment below.
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