10 Ways To Handle Picky Eaters
Cooking for picky eaters can be difficult, but there are ways around the stresses of trying to get kids to eat healthy. Parents everywhere battle picky eaters every day, whether it’s to get them to eat their veggies, new and different foods, meats, or just eating in general. This can cause serious stress for some parents.
Food is a large part of the holiday season, and we would hate for your child to miss out on the festivities. Here are a couple tips to help your little ones appreciate the season:
1. Be a good example.
Monkey see, monkey do. If you eat healthy, your kids will follow in your footsteps and be more open to trying new foods. Try inviting your child’s friends or cousins over for dinner one night. Christmas dinner is a perfect place for this—having the whole family together surrounded by cousins their own age, kids may not want to be the only one not eating what everyone else is eating.
2. Get creative.
Add veggies to pasta sauces or mix them into casseroles and soups. Put foods children are apprehensive about on pizza or try hiding them in foods. Stuffing is one of the best Christmas “sneak in veggie” meals. It is a compilation of lots of different things and healthy foods are a prime ingredient.
3. Stick to a routine.
Eat meals and snacks at the same time every day. Doing this can space out meals and snacks to ensure your child’s hungriest at meal times. Even if a child doesn’t necessarily enjoy what is being served for the meal, he/she will be more likely to try and eat it. Christmas dinner is usually held at abnormal times, throwing a wrench in routines. Don’t over-feed children on Christmas day, depending on your dinner time. If dinner is at 2pm, eat a full breakfast early in the morning and a light snack at around 11:30am. By dinner time, kids will be hungry again and willing to eat!
4. Don’t force feed.
If a child isn’t hungry, don’t force it. This may cause meal-time anxiety, and, in turn, cause children to become more of a picky eater—developing other bad eating habits. During Christmas dinner, if your child says he is full, don’t push him/her to eat more. Allow them to digest and maybe they will want to eat more later. Christmas puts a hype on dinner, and this may cause your child to develop meal-time anxiety, causing their appetite to waiver. Don’t be concerned when he/she sees everyone else eating, they may just pick up their own fork.
5. Remove distractions.
Dinner time is time to eat. Turn off the T.V., put away the cell phones, put a pause on homework, and spend time with each other. By spending time as a family at the dinner table, this allows picky eaters to feel safe and comfortable in the home. Watching family members eat and enjoy foods that are in front of them.
Also, younger siblings look up to older siblings—this includes the foods they experiment with.
6. Encourage your child to help.
Allowing your child to grocery shop with you lets them help pick out foods that look appetizing in their eyes. They are more likely to eat them if they have picked them out themselves. When preparing meals, have your kids help you rinse vegetables, set the table, and garnish the meal. The best ways to overcome picky eaters is to include everyone in meal preparation.
By incorporating your whole family into the process of making dinner, you provide a safe space where everyone feels comfortable with the food being prepared. Bringing everyone into the kitchen each night establishes a sense of family togetherness in the house.
7. Make new foods enticing.
Children need repeated exposure to new foods to become comfortable with them. Show encouragement when serving new foods, but do not force them to eat it. Keep portion sizes to to be small as to not overwhelm them. Allow them to play with foods and watch everyone else eating them. Set a specific amount of time the child needs to be at the dinner table whether they eat or not. Another idea may be to require children to take a certain amount of bites before they can be excused from the dinner table.
Christmas is a sticky situation. Most foods are relatively familiar to kids like mashed potatoes and turkey, but stuffing and yams may not be as much. Textures and flavors can be different especially when yams can be weird colored and not the most appetizing looking. Encourage children to try small amount to introduce them, but don’t force it.
8. Cook one meal only.
Prepare one meal for dinner. If a child doesn’t like something about it, let them pick it out. Making them a separate meal encourages picky eating. If children know that you will make them something they enjoy instead of what is being served, they are less willing to try the meal on the table. Lots of preparation goes into Christmas dinner. Many people put hours of work to make dinner perfect, and bringing a carton of mac and cheese to dinner for your kid may not sit well with the in-laws. Dinner is what is being served to everyone at the same time, so don’t make things more difficult for those in the kitchen working on dinner when you bring in that carton of mac and cheese.
9. Make it something fun.
Serve fruits and veggies with favorite dipping sauces. Find recipes for interesting shaped foods that increase your child’s excitement about meal and snack times. Foods served in appealing ways draw the attention of children and can make meal-time more enjoyable.
10. Dessert is not to be offered as a reward.
As a parent, you want your child to learn to enjoy these foods. By withholding, you may be doing the opposite of what you’re wanting to do by increasing your child’s fascination with sugary foods and promote overeating.
Christmas desserts are sought after for many weeks before the big day—lots of time is spent making the best pies and strudels. So, a good idea could be to build your child’s plate around dessert and require them to eat a certain amount of each food on the plate prior to dipping into those delicious treats.
Trying these can not only help parents understand their little picky eaters, but it also provides a foundation for a healthy relationship with kids and food.
Author: Jordan Hernandez, Utah State University