You probably won’t admit it, but I will. I was one of those pre-kid people who vowed that all my children will eat anything I put in front of them. Picky eaters were not going to be a part of my household. This and my blanket statement of saying my kids will never eat McDonald’s are just the tip of the iceberg of stupid shit I said before actually becoming a parent.
I don’t think I’ve met a single parent who has said to me “Oh my Johnny, he will eat ANYTHING I make for him. Asparagus, green beans, corn, he LOVES his veggies!” Instead, I usually bemoan my child’s eating habits during lunch playdates as my friend asks what foods my kids enjoy (ummm, carbs?).
Kids can really suck at eating all those good-for-them foods that we are told we must introduce to them. And it’s easy to feel like we are failing them as parents when it seems like they aren’t getting a balanced diet. But meal time is already a challenge. I don’t remember the last time I sat down to my dinner while it was still hot. And I’m too exhausted at the end of the day to care that much about the food pyramid.
So I wanted to share a few tips that I use to help keep my sanity with my picky eaters that seem to be working:
- Turns out kids have some inherent trust issues with new foods. When introducing something new they are very likely to turn their nose up to it. And it makes sense. Kids love routines and things they are familiar with. If you come at them with something new, and maybe a little scary looking, don’t be surprised if their first reaction is a hell no!
Keep introducing that food to them over the course of many meals. It may take as many as 10-15 times (or more!) before a kid gets used to the idea of the new food. Play the long game, and don’t get frustrated in the short-term if they don’t immediately take to the new food. Put something on their plate that you know they will eat so they don’t go hungry, but don’t worry if they aren’t interested in the new item. It’s totally normal!
- Don’t force them to eat something they aren’t in to. Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you NOT to do something? What did you do? The exact opposite. If we force our kids to eat something they think they don’t like (or are maybe just not used to yet) then they may react defensively and never give that food a chance because of the way it was introduced.
I personally have a ‘try it’ rule. Even if that means a quick lick of the butternut squash, that’s all I ask. They don’t even need to swallow it (and often don’t!) but the more they get used to seeing it, smelling it, tasting it, the easier the transition will be.
- When in doubt, dip it! I don’t know about your kids, but mine love to dip their food. The obvious, and less healthy dip, is ketchup of course. But you can also opt for more healthy dip options like hummus, yogurt, low-fat salad dressings. This allows kids to mix something they are familiar with in with something they aren’t.
You would be surprised at how exciting it is for a kid to have dip. Seems silly, but it’s almost like a challenge because of the dexterity they need to use to accomplish the dipping, so they are less focused on the food and more focused on dipping! I have found that this helps me determine if they REALLY hate the food (which is totally ok! we all have preferences) or if they just aren’t used to it yet.
- Cooking together is another way to get picky eaters more interested in new foods. When my kids help me make calzones they love throwing on the green peppers and mushrooms. And since they had a hand in making dinner, they usually don’t think twice about the ingredients while stuffing their face.
Try getting them involved in the prep process of meals and you may see them have a more adventurous appetite at the table. If nothing else, they will get an understanding of the hard work you do in preparing them meals so really it’s a win-win!
- This might be hard at times but keeping your cool at dinner is key in helping kids continue trying new foods. If dinner is a battle or they fear they will be in trouble by the end of it then they may not be very eager to try anything new. You want them to look forward to meal times and that positive energy you bring will go a long way. And I know there’s nothing worse than working hard to cook a meal that your kid says YUCK to. But stay the course and over time you’ll see some improvements.
Celebrate the wins, even if they are few and far between. If they try something new and they don’t like it, brush it off nonchalantly with a “That’s ok, I’m really glad you tried it!” and move on. Don’t belabor the fact that they didn’t like it, just take a short break from that food and try again another time.
- I noticed that keeping snack foods out of the house helps a ton with picky eating. If my kids are hungry at meal times then they are certainly more likely to try everything on their plate. Kids are super smart and they will realize they can manipulate meal times if they know a snack option is a mere half hour away.
I’m certainly not anti-snack all the time and think there are times kids REALLY do need any extra pick-me-up, like after an athletic event. But in general, snacking just hasn’t proved to be very effective and made me feel like all I do all day is feed my kids.
Meal times are important for families and picky eaters can make it tough. But don’t stress mammas! All of these picky eating habits are completely normal as your kid starts to show independence and preferences. Show them good eating habits by displaying them yourself and they will begin to see all of the new foods as normal. And it’s ok if you aren’t perfect. I know I’ve totally dropped the ball in some of the green veggie areas because I hate them myself and don’t prepare meals with them often. But focus on the good things you are doing and keep after it!
If you’re reading this than I’m sure you already know…but being a mom is hard AF! I’m trying to make it a little easier by creating a kick ass community of moms where I bring in expert speakers to give you the knowledge you need to keep your head above water. Come check it out!