Getting picky kids to eat can be a chore, and we’ve all been there. Sometimes, they get fixated on a certain food, hot dogs or chicken nuggets, for instance, and do not want to eat much else. Our little grandson always seems to eat lots more when our Labrador retriever is near the table; I do not think that is a coincidence.
How can you make sure they get and eat a good variety of foods, and that they’re getting the nutrition they need also? Keep in mind that you are not alone in the picky food fight. Surveys tell us that up to 90% of children have at least one long picky stage. Another important thing is to insist they take a multi-vitamin daily. This chore is easier now that chewable, gummi bear style vitamins are available for kids.
Make each mealtime a fun and happy experience for your child. Ignore any bad eating behavior and praise the heck out of the good. Hide your frustrations, but do give them a small sample of each food you’ve prepared and encourage them to try at least one bite. Don’t make a huge fuss if they won’t eat something. Remember, they are kids, and it’s often just to get attention.
Let them help
Once the child is old enough, allow them to assist in preparing meals. Not only will they get a big kick out of being the “little chef,” they will want to try the foods they’ve made. It is amazing what an appetite they work up helping in the kitchen.
Hide and conquer
At times, it is necessary to be a little sneaky. Blending veggies and mixing them into spaghetti sauce is a great way to sneak some extra nutrition into their meals. Likewise, blending cauliflower into mashed potatoes or gravy is relatively easy to hide and does not change the taste or texture enough for them to refuse these foods.
Don’t give up
Just because your child will not eat quesadillas today, does not mean you should permanently remove them from their menu. Their tastes change, and as they try new things and actually like them, they become more willing to try still further new foods. RE-introduce rejected foods periodically. They just may surprise you.
Make food fun
Make use of the kid’s divided plates and give them just a little portion that fits perfectly. For foods like pot pie, use small individual kid-sized dishes and you may find them cleaning their plates. Do you remember your grandma making you Mickey Mouse pancakes? Kids love things like that! Likewise, sandwiches cut with cookie cutters, and anything they can pick up with their fingers. If the food is actually something that they can dip in ketchup or ranch dressing, all the better.
Make healthier junk foods
Kids love pizza, burgers, and chicken nuggets, which is great because all of those things lend themselves to healthier homemade versions. Use English muffins or flattened biscuits for pizza crust and let your kids pick their own toppings for mini-pizzas. Chicken breasts can be cut up and dipped in a combination of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese before popping them in the oven for healthy nuggets. Blend some pureed veggies into high quality ground beef for healthy burgers.
After school snacks
Kids typically get off the school bus starving, so have something healthy ready for them. It can be something as simple as sliced apples or a bunch of grapes. Quick wrap sandwiches, celery with cream cheese, or cartons of yogurt are other ideas. Keep the lower shelves of your refrigerator filled with healthy snacks they can choose whenever they want.
Some kids might snub bananas in their natural state. Try this treat and you’ll likely get a different response. Freeze bananas and put them in the blender with just a touch of milk. Now blend until smooth and creamy and you have a tasty treat that is good as ice cream but lots healthier.
Always eat with them
You should always sit down and eat with the whole family at the table when possible. I know that schedules get crazy and one or two people of the family may miss dinner, but it helps to relax together and talk about your day, while also taking the focus off what they’ve eaten. Seeing you and the other family members enjoy things they have not tried might encourage them to take a nibble.
Reward good habits
Use little sticker charts to reward them trying even a tiny portion of a new food. When they fill up a predetermined portion of the chart, they get a reward. Simple rewards kids love are extending bedtime, a trip to the park or playground, or perhaps a new book or small toy.
Keep in mind that this pickiness that kids have towards food will pass. By the time they are teenagers they will be eating so much you will wonder why you ever worried.
This guest post written by Denise Gabbard, a professional writer and mother of three grown children and three adorable grandchildren. She encourages families to cook together and uses nonstick cookware sets when cooking with the “little chefs.”