When it comes to feeding our children, few things bring up as much dread as the picky eater. If you have ever had to feed picky eaters, you know how hard and frustrating this can be. You prepare a healthy meal with all the food groups, place it lovingly on a plate, and present it to your little one with such high hopes. Then, you get “the face” – the clamped mouth, the upturned nose and then the inevitable push away of the plate. Your heart sinks and you feel the sting of defeat. Sigh.
Over the years, we have heard from many members on this very real challenge, their frustrations, and how they have tried to deal with it. From all of this input we have developed tips – and listed below are five of our favorite tips, along with some tips from members of our team. Read on for some relief!
5 Steps to Encourage Picky Eaters:
- Introduce new foods in small portions on small plates: it’s not as overwhelming to kids when the portion feels small.
- One family, one dinner: when children see others eating the same foods, especially their parents, their natural curiosity may motivate them to try it for themselves. Being a role model for eating healthy foods consistently is so so important. Also, providing a separate meal for kids and a separate meal for mom and dad makes dinner more time consuming. Do you really want to set yourself up to be a short order cook? Aside from solving the picky eater challenge, there are so many other reasons to work towards family dinners. We have many blog posts on this topic you can read here: https://thedinnerdaily.com/why-family-dinners-matter/
- Follow the 14 times Rule: some of you may have heard this referred to as the 10 times rule. Regardless of the number, the premise is the same: children sometimes need to see and try a new food 14 times before their taste buds accept it. When your child reacts negatively to a new food, we often will assume that food is a “no go” and never serve it again. Then, before you know it, you have a child that will only eat six possible meals for dinner. As any parent of a picky eater will tell you , that is no fun at all. The key is to keep trying and keep presenting healthy foods on their plate. Take the long view, try to be patient and remember, it does take time. One day the magic will happen and you will be so glad you stuck with it.
- Introduce new “themes” for dinner to make it fun: this can be as simple as saying we are having “Mexican Night” for chicken tacos, or ‘Dinner in the Tropics” for sliced mango and kiwi fruit. Use your imagination and come up with ideas you think would appeal to your kids. When my boys were little and learning to play hockey, I would say we are having “Hockey Superstar Dinner ” and then explain to them that all the healthy food on their plates was what their NHL heroes ate for dinner. “Yes, Sydney Crosby eats lots and lots of veggies for dinner…that is why he is a superstar on the ice! Be like Sydney!” Did it always work? No. But, it did get their attention, made them smile, and therefore more in the mood to try new foods. For related ideas of how to make eating fun for kids, read our related post on Getting Kits To Eat Vegetables by Making It Fun.
- Involve your picky eaters: when I used to hear variations of this tip, I would think it was completely unrealistic. “Are you kidding? I try to keep my young boys occupied with legos or coloring while I cooked. I don’t want them in the kitchen!”. However, I learned this tip has real merit. Some easy examples: if you take your kids grocery shopping, let them pick out a vegetable to cook at dinner and then depending on the age, have them help you cook it. They will naturally be curious to try what they were involved in selecting. Another idea: if you are making a simple salad, add the dressing to the bowl and ask your child to toss it. Yes, it could get messy. You could end up with salad ingredients on the counter. However, you could also be rewarded with a child that wants to taste what they created.
And a Picky Eater tip we are NOT Fans of:
The idea of hiding healthy whole foods in sweet treats is not something we recommend. This was a popular trend a few years back as a whole slew of cookbooks and online recipes came out and recommended hiding vegetables in sweet foods. “Your kids don’t like broccoli? Easy! Puree the broccoli and then add it to brownies!!” “Having a hard time getting them to eat greens? Chop them up and stir into pancake batter. They won’t even taste it with all that sweet syrup!”.
Although we understand how incredibly exhausting (and stressful) it is to have a child that will not eat their veggies and seems to refuse everything you put in front of them, this tactic is not the path for long term success. Fresh vegetables and healthy foods taste good naturally. Eventually, if you are persistent and consistent, your kids will find healthy foods they enjoy and be on the path to lifelong healthy eating habits. If they never learn to enjoy the taste of a perfectly ripe mango, or the crunch of perfectly steamed broccoli when they are young, developing those habits when they become teenagers or young adults is that much harder.
We love to hear the success stories from our members when they tell us “I never thought I could get my son to eat veggies, but tonight at dinner he ate all his green beans and cauliflower!” or “never in a million years did think my 4 year old would eat fish…but she is!” It can and does happen…consistency and persistence is the key!
How do you solve the picky eater challenge?
What are your favorite picky eater solutions? We would love for you to share your tips in the comments below.
If you are looking for some more information in relation to meal planning, check out our complete guide here:
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 .