Have a picky toddler or child in your life? If so, I feel your pain. My 5 year old eats less than 10 different items. Ten may seem like a lot, but based on what is available for most people to eat, it’s minuscule. My daughter went through the picky eating stage at about three, and I was able to coax her back into her adventurous eating self. My son is another story entirely. At three, he hit the same picky stage and we are still trying to recover. But instead of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by his daily dinner choice of a pizza lunchable, I continuously cycle these 7 Ways to Encourage Picky Eaters to try and increase his curiosity and willingness to try new foods.
Make a Plan
Having a meal plan is helpful for everyone – but especially for picky eaters. Get your child involved in choosing new recipes, side dishes, or desserts. Yes,my son is even picky when it comes to sweets. Make sure to include several favorite items in the weekly plan, and supplement with one or two new recipes to try.
Let Go of Control
It can be hard to slow down and let go of some control when you have a picky eater. Try to stop the urge to institute the “empty plate club” forcing children to finish the food that is in front of them. Stick to providing reasonable size portions and encouraging children to take at least two bites. Arguing, yelling, or shaming children into eating rarely has the desired outcome. It also may create an obsession with “forbidden” foods, or set your child up to begin seeing certain foods as a reward. Instead, opt for a more relaxed approach and focus on teaching your child to listen to his or her body for signals that they are hungry or full.
Keep Things Simple
While you might relish the thought of a multi-course elaborate meal, for most kids it can be overwhelming and have just too many variables. Instead try sticking with simple foods and slowly add more unique offerings. Offer foods in different ways like cut up in small pieces in a muffin tin or on a divided plate. Be sure to fill a cup or section with a dip or sauce your child already enjoys to add familiarity to the offering.
To Hide or Not to Hide
You may have noticed there’s an entire industry of cookbooks and meal plans designed around hiding fruits and vegetables in children’s food. While this is an easy way to get the nutritional benefits of these foods, it doesn’t support long term eating habits. Mix up mixing hidden fruits and vegetables with their natural state so that children learn to recognize and eat them in all forms.
Let them Decide
Give your child choices of what to eat instead of telling them what they will eat. Provide several acceptable, healthy options and allow them to decide which one they will have. Not only will they be exposed to multiple options they will also feel like they have some power and independence to make some choices.
Make it Fun
There are hundreds of tutorials and pictures floating online of fun ways to prepare food. Bento boxes are very popular, as are using cookie cutters to design the food into fun shapes. Small items that can be eaten with their hands or on a skewer is generally a hit. Your child might hate the thought of eating a banana, but when they are presented with a pretty banana palm tree with orange sections for fronds, it might be the push they need to get them to take a bite.
Get Them in the Kitchen
Just like kids are more likely to try foods they choose, they’re even more likely to try a dish they have helped make! Yes, it will take a little more time and patience to prepare a meal, but it will encourage them to try the dish they made, enjoy the process of creating the meal. They may even realize the effort in preparing for mealtime, and just maybe slightly less reluctant to refuse your meal choices.
Changing the habits of a picky eater isn’t easy, but it can be done given enough time. How much time it really takes, I just don’t know yet. Ask me again in a few more years.
What is your favorite way to encourage a picky eater?