Take baby steps to establish a new food routine
Michelle Bullock knows a thing or two about picky eaters.
Her two-year-old son, Ronald, has a few favorite foods, but the Lakeview mom wishes he would add a little variety to his repertoire.
“I think that ketchup might be his favorite food,” a chuckling Bullock says. “He uses his French fry as a spoon until it falls apart.”
Like a lot of kids his age, Ronald will eat pasta – rigatoni is OK but not spaghetti – rice and fruit, but shies away from other typical kid-friendly foods such as chicken nuggets.
He refuses to eat vegetables, but Bullock sneaks them into his diet via squeezable baby food packets, though she is careful to choose ones with less sugar.
Ronald often shocks his parents by trying something new – and seemingly loving it.
But the honeymoon often is over by the next attempt.
“He used to like my chili, but the other day, no,” Bullock says, noting that Ronald is never thrilled with trying something new.
“You’ll hold it in front of him on a fork or spoon, and he sticks his tongue out to taste it. He always makes a sour face whether he likes it or not.”
Making food appealing to kids
Variety is the spice of life – unless you’re a toddler demanding dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and mac and cheese at every meal.
Picky eating isn’t uncommon among youngsters, but that doesn’t make the issue any less frustrating for parents. Here are some ways to make healthy foods more attractive to a selective kiddo.
Strike while the iron is hot. Tummies growling just before dinner?
Set out a plate of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables with peanut butter, a low-fat dressing or yogurt-based dip for your hungry brood to munch on while you prep dinner.
Cook together. Kids can tear lettuce leaves, wash fruits and vegetables, and stir ingredients. “When they’re involved in the cooking process, they’re often more likely to try what they’ve helped create,” says Lynn Kistler, a registered dietitian who specializes in pediatric nutrition.
Ta-da! Present food in playful ways. Cut sandwiches into stars with a cookie cutter. Offer “ants on a log” with celery, peanut butter and raisins.
And, serve food on kid-sized plates and bowls featuring their favorite characters, suggests Joan Sechrist, a registered dietician with Sentara Healthcare.
Taste test. “Hey, what’s that funny star-shaped fruit?” Take advantage of your child’s natural curiosity. Explore the produce section at the grocery store.
Talk about the origin of different foods and suggest that your child choose something for the family to try.
“Make a game out of trying new foods,” Kistler says. “Encourage children to try at least one bite. Focus more on the color, shape, feel, texture or smell of the new food rather than the taste.”
Do as I say… And as I do. Introduce small bites of new foods with those that your kids like.
When you dine out, invite them to try a bite of whatever you’re eating.
“If children witness their parents eating a varied, nutrient-dense diet in a genuine way – not because they’re eating ‘diet food’ to lose weight – children will be more likely to follow through as well,” says Crystal Witte, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who specializes in food sensitivities.
Offer variety. Establish a meal and snack-time routine that integrates colorful fruits and vegetables.
To curb food waste, “allow children to serve themselves. It gives them some control at meal time,” Sechrist says.
Be patient. Taste buds evolve over time.
“Instead of expecting your child to eat all of her broccoli, ask her to try just one bite. Over time, your child is more likely to develop a taste preference for that food. Repeated exposure is key,” Witte says.
Shhh… Don’t tell. “As a last resort, you can sneak fruits and veggies into fun foods they like,” Kistler says.
Add chopped up peppers or broccoli to quesadillas. Puree veggies like cauliflower or squash into mac and cheese or spaghetti sauce.
Avoid power struggles. Experts agree, kids shouldn’t be forced to eat a food or clean their plates.
“Keeping the dinner table a pleasant place will teach your child to associate eating with positive feelings,” Kistler says.
Kids often prefer fresh fruits and veggies over heated ones. Try a few of these options:
Sugar snap peas
Green bell peppers
*Offer dips like hummus, nut butters or their favorite salad dressing
Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance journalist and the mother of two growing boys who love to eat. She the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.