Strategies for Picky Eaters
It can be a delicate balancing act trying to get children to expand their food repertoire without pressuring them. So how can we encourage our kids to have a healthy and well-rounded diet?
Never force foods. Some parents struggle with this, believing it’s their job to make their kids eat what’s in front of them. But you can’t force a child to eat, whether you make them sit there until the plate is clean or not. You may win a battle, but you’ll lose the war. Kids will learn negative associations with food or mealtimes and may not recognize their own appetite cues later.
Encourage healthy eating. Encouragement is a far better tool than enforcement. Offer a balanced diet of foods, varying the menu, preparation method and sensory cues. Think in terms of color, taste, seasonings, textures and temperature. Also, avoid using food as punishment or reward because that teaches that there are “good” and “bad” foods.
Model healthy eating. Kids learn by watching us, so try to show your children that you eat various healthy foods prepared in all kinds of different ways. Don’t try and trick a child into eating something, or pretend to eat something because it’s inevitable that you’ll be found out and the loss of credibility will harm your efforts. If you’re a picky eater, try new foods alongside your child and experiment with different recipes and preparation methods.
Don’t become a restaurant. Cook one meal for dinner, not two or three different ones to accommodate everyone’s whims. Provide some simple substitutes for evenings when your child hates the foods prepared, like a PB&J sandwich, a bowl of healthy cereal, some yogurt or a salad.
Engage your child with food. Take your kids to the grocery store, and let them help plan menus and prep the meals. When kids have more control over the meals, they’re more likely to try the foods.
Provide options. Give options at mealtimes such as pizza night, where you set out toppings and let them build their own pies. Or have a baked potato bar with fixings or the same with burgers. Some nights, have a buffet-style meal so kids can fill their own plates.
Make meals fun. Play trivia games at the table, letting kids pick the music to listen to during dinner or having a chart for positive meal behavior. You could award a star on a chart for sitting through dinner, trying a new food, using good manners or helping set the table. Once a set number of stars are earned, give a non-food award such as a trip to the park, playing a game or money for their piggy bank.
To teach about food waste, talk about how important it is to use food wisely as a resource. Don’t emphasize cleaning one’s plate, but rather taking only what you are sure you will eat and if desired later, ask for seconds. If you aren’t sure your child will like a food, offer a taste instead of heaping it onto their plate.
Picky eating isn’t limited to kids; it can affect adults, too. Use these tips to help reduce your picky eating habits.
- Scale back on snacks and drinks so you’re hungrier at mealtimes.
- Keep meals as stress-free as possible.
- When you feel up for trying something new, do it when you’re alone or with someone who will be supportive, encouraging and nonjudgmental.
- Eat any new foods with a variety of familiar favorites. If you don’t like it, you’ll still have a meal you can enjoy.
- You can also pair new foods with your favorite sauces, spices or seasonings to make them more appealing.