We all know nutrition is important, especially for young children and their growing bodies. But with picky eaters, this is tough. We all want our kids to eat healthy and set them up to be lifelong healthy eaters. Easier said than done right? We get it. Trying to get picky eaters to embrace healthy, nutrient rich foods consistently is challenging, and often just exhausting. So to help, here are our five tips for picky eaters that just might help.
Most kids go through a picky eater phase at some point. Some are longer than others and some test the patience of us parents like nothing else. As hard as this part of parenting can be, we think the battle is worth it. If you are now thinking “sounds great in theory but my kids are SO picky” read on for a few tips. Some are practical and some are to arm you with the mental fortitude to keep going.
Tips for Picky Eaters to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits
Use the 14 Times Rule:
Getting your kids to be open to new tastes is a process and just like teaching them other skills, it takes time and practice. Kids will often resist a new food the first time they taste it and may need to try it more than once before their taste buds will adapt. Many pediatricians talk about the “14 Times Rule”. Simply stated, kids might need to try a new food/taste/texture up to 14 times before they will eat it. How many of us have given up WAY before 14 times?
I actually shared this tip with my kids and it became somewhat of a game in our house to see how many tries it would be until they liked something. Sometimes they never did, but often they would realize those fresh veggies on their plates were not so bad after all.
Serve Basic Whole Foods (most of the time):
We are not big fans of the “puree the broccoli and hide it in the brownies” movement. Kids need to learn to enjoy and appreciate the taste of pure delicious food and fresh fruit and vegetables. Can you imagine the pressure of always having to hide the veggies in sweet snacks? Sounds exhausting to me and when does it end? Instead, celebrate the taste of a fresh crisp apple, freshly steamed broccoli (with a tad of butter perhaps), or the crunch of baby carrots served with some dip. If these are the types of snacks that become the norm in your house, your kids will learn to see healthy foods as regular snacks and a regular part of their life. When my kids were little, during the witching hour when I was trying to get dinner on the table, I would put out a big platter of fruit, crackers and cheese. To this day, it is one of their favorite snacks. Cookies and chips are going to sneak in, but make them an every once in awhile snack.
One Family, One Dinner:
When my daughter was about two, I almost got caught in the habit of making one meal for mom and dad, and then one meal for my toddler. What a lot of work! Two sets of prep and two sets of ingredients. I remember it hitting me -I was on the path to becoming a short order cook. From then on, we all ate the same thing and in the process my daughter learned to become a great eater: she had salmon, our favorite Thai chicken recipe, loads of different type of veggies, and flavors and spices that would never be considered typical “kid fare”. She saw she ate what mom and dad ate and there was no such thing as “kid food”, just healthy food. Not to mention you make YOUR life so much easier in the process. Double bonus!
Explain the “Why”:
Teaching kids why eating good food is important to their health goes a long way, rather than saying “just because”. For example, discuss how a star athlete must eat well to achieve their goals and perform well in their sport, or how healthy foods help their brains work better. Giving them some motivation to eat healthy can go a long way.
Start early and Don’t give up:
Like many things worth doing, persistence is key to success. Healthy eating habits will not happen over night or even over a week. After my pediatrician encouraged me to just keep putting healthy food on their plates over and over again, I found success. Foods that I thought were never going to be on the rotation were suddenly disappearing off the plates. If your kids are still at the toddler stage, no better time to try this tactic than now as their taste buds are still forming and you can mold their eating habits for life.
My kids are now teens and young adults and the reality is I have less control over their day to day diets. One is in college and one is preparing to go off to college. Today, they will still ask me “where’s the fruit” before dinner. And although I know they now can choose to go out and stock up on junk if they want, I do believe the eating habits they learned early in life will carry them through.
I hope this helps. Give one or two of our tips for picky eaters a try. Then try another one. You might be surprised at how open your children are to trying something new.
If you are looking for some more information about meal planning, check out our complete meal planner’s guide.
If you are curious about The Dinner Daily, what we do, and how we help thousands of families (including those with picky eaters) solve dinner every night, check out our How it Works page.