Many families struggle when they have a child who is a picky eater. They not only get frustrated with the child’s lack of willingness to try new things, but they also might worry that their child isn’t getting the nutrition his or her body needs to grow up healthy and strong. Here are some quick and easy suggestions for how to help your child stay healthy and become more open to new foods.
1. Be sneaky! Every child has a favorite food that they could eat every night. Why not get creative and sneak some healthy vegetables into it? For example, make macaroni and cheese more nutritious by adding in some pureed butternut squash, which is a great source of vitamins A and C. Looking for another option? Kids often love milkshakes, so make a chocolate peanut butter smoothie with a banana and, if you’re feeling daring, add in some spinach or kale. Consider using a dark colored cup to cover up the green color that can come from using leafy greens in a shake.
2. Make food fun. When is the last time you got excited about eating broccoli? Now imagine that broccoli is a tree in a forest – way better right? Get creative with fruits and vegetables. Try making a turkey out of a cauliflower with celery and carrots for the feathers and have a healthy dip on the side. The children can easily pull out the veggie “feathers” and dip them for a creative and healthy snack. Remember to leave a little extra time for cooking and clean up!
3. Get your child involved. Your child may be more open to trying new foods if they are somehow involved in the preparation, just make sure that the tasks you share with them are kid-friendly. Children as young as 3 or 4 years old can help prepare meals by tearing lettuce, spreading butter on bread, adding dry ingredients to a mixture, etc. Try having your child help you find the produce for your dinner recipe next time you’re at the grocery store – it’s another great way to involve them in the whole process and expose them to new fruits and vegetables. Involving your child in the kitchen is also a great way to bond and teach them about healthy eating.
4. Play the texture game. Often times the texture of a food can be enough for a child to say “no.” Pay attention to the textures that your child likes: are they crunchy foods? Creamy? Prepare the foods in a way that will be most pleasing to your child. If your child prefers crunchy foods, you will be better off having them try to eat raw sticks of bell peppers than peppers cooked up in a meal.
5. Expand the menu. Be a good role model for your child by being a healthy eater yourself. Pick a couple of new options to add to the menu each week. If your child sees you branching out and trying new foods with a positive attitude, then they will likely follow along. Switching up your meals is a great way to not only encourage your child to try new foods, but also to give yourself some new options and keep dinners and food fun.
6. Respect your child’s tastes. Your child won’t like every food they try, and that’s okay – not many people do. They should at least take one “No Thank You Bite.” If your child tries broccoli or brussels sprouts and says they don’t like it, then respect their decision. Keep the disliked items in your rotation though; some day they may be more willing to try broccoli again.
7. Don’t make a big deal out of not liking a certain food. This can be tied into respecting your child’s tastes. It’s important that you do not make a big deal out of your child not liking a food and to respect their decision, as discussed above in my 6th suggestion. However, it is also important to not make a big deal if your child ends up liking the food you’ve tried time and time again without any previous success. If your child says they like it, simply offer them more. Making a big deal out of a child liking a food that they previously rejected can, in some cases, embarrass the child and discourage him from wanting to try new foods again.
8. Be patient. Lastly, be patient. It make take multiple times of a child trying a food for them to really know if they like it. Over time, taste buds and preferences develop and change, so it’s important to know that this is not an instant process. It’s important to be patient with your child and to keep offering new, healthy options for them to try, and know that they may not like it on the first try or the second try, but the third try might just do it.
Consider these eight suggestions as a great starting point to help you and your child, but know that there are also many other ways to expand your picky eater’s palate. Getting your child involved, being a role model, and having patience are three key ways to help get your child to become more adventurous when trying new foods.
Kristin Speikers graduated from Framingham State University with a BS in Food and Nutrition. She is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist. Currently she is transitioning from working as a Dining Services Assistant Manager at Boston College to working in the purchasing department. In her free time, Kristin enjoys reading and taking walks outside.