Picky eaters can be challenging to cook for but it’s especially challenging when it comes to cooking for picky eaters who are children. Not only can cooking be a challenge, but picky eaters can miss out on a lot of good food and nutrients. If you are wondering how you can get your picky eater to eat better, try these five tips.
#1 Ask for Help
Picky eaters are more likely to taste a dish they helped plan or prepare, so recruit your child to help meal plan, grocery shop and cook. Sit down with your children and ask them to help you brainstorm meal ideas for the week ahead and when it comes to grocery shopping, ask children to help select the food items needed for each recipe. Ask them to find fresh fruit for dessert, pick out potatoes for a casserole or select certain salad ingredients. When it comes time to prepare a meal, ask picky eaters to help with age-appropriate tasks such as chopping, measuring and stirring. Simple tasks such as these will allow children to contribute to a project in which they are proud to eat and share with others. Asking for help in all stages of the meal planning process gives picky eaters an investment in the final product and greater curiosity to try it.
#2 Be Patient
It is quite common for children to be cautious and curious of new things including food. Young children often touch and smell new foods before taking an exploratory bite, so be patient with your picky eater. Your child might need repeated exposure to new foods before they take a full bite. Encourage your picky eater to eat better by talking to them about the food’s aroma, color, shape and texture, not whether or not the food tastes good. Continue to serve new foods paired with your picky eater’s favorite foods until the new food options become familiar and preferred. Over time, your child may even begin requesting some of these new foods.
#3 Get Creative
When it comes to cooking meals for picky eaters, get creative. Add greens like spinach or avocado to an afternoon smoothie, include chopped vegetables like broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauces, mix grated vegetables like carrots and squash into homemade casseroles and soups and top morning bowls of oatmeal with fresh fruit slices. Remember to make it fun too. Serve roasted vegetables with a favorite dipping sauce, cut food into fun shapes and sizes using various cookie cutters, have themed meal night like Taco Tuesday or even swap schedules around and serve breakfast for dinner.
Tip: If your child detects bright green flecks of spinach in their smoothie and they inquire further, be upfront and honest. If they respond with a resounding, “Yuck!” Take the time to show them what a spinach leaf looks like. If you are growing a garden, take them outside and show them the various plants and vegetables the family is growing so they can see where some of their food comes from. It may even pique their interest to try more new foods.
#4 Minimize Distractions
When it comes to mealtimes, minimize distractions. Turn off the television, put away cell phones and other electronic devices and focus on the family and food. This will help picky eaters focus on eating and will also help them learn how to tune in to their own body’s own hunger and satiation cues. Keep in mind that television advertising may also encourage children to desire less nutritious foods like sugary sweets and treats, so eliminate this distraction and maybe even redefine dessert by replacing ice cream with nice cream or offering fresh fruit with a spoonful or two of yogurt or homemade coconut whipped cream.
#5 Serve Smart Snacks
One of the easiest ways to get picky eaters accustomed to eating new foods is to serve them when they are really hungry at snack time. Although it may be easy to pass out store bought sugary granola bars and artificially flavored “fruit” snacks, these are not the healthiest snack options. Instead, opt for fresh fruits and farmers market vegetables served with a savory side like homemade hummus or nut/seed butter. Just be sure not to serve a snack too close to mealtime and always serve small portions.
Tip: Children look to you as an example, so eat a variety of healthy foods so your picky eaters will be more likely to follow your lead.
When it comes to getting a picky eater to eat better, be patient. Your child’s eating habits will not change overnight, but small steps each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.