No Picky Eaters: How to Make Mealtime Enjoyable for You and Your Child
Are you worried about your child’s nutrition because she won’t eat vegetables? Are mealtimes a power struggle with no winner? I am here to help! As a mom of four children and the daycare mom to at least a dozen more, I have managed to raise No Picky Eaters. I am happy to share my favorite tips with you in the hope that mealtime becomes a healthier and happier experience for you and your family.
When mealtime is fun, it sets the table (pun intended) for exploration of new foods. Here are some ways to get your child excited about mealtime and trying new things:
- Have a “Tasting Party.” Put vegetables and fruits on a big tray and try them together. Ask which ones they like best!
- Let them make it! I took a group of kids to the farmers market and let them each pick out a vegetable. We came home and cut the vegetables up together and made a stir fry. While we were eating it, I was commenting on what great choices they had made and what good cooks they were. They ate it all up!
- Add toppings or stir ins. Remember that a child eats first with their eyes. A few goldfish crackers or curly noodles can make all the difference in a bowl of soup. Now instead of tomato soup you have “Curly Noodle Soup.”
- Present the food in fun shapes! Cut their sandwiches or fruit with cookie cutters. If they can do it themselves, let them do it.
- Let them add toppings! Oatmeal is a lot more fun when you have a topping bar with raisins, brown sugar, maple syrup and chocolate chips.
- Dip! Whether its ketchup, honey, cheese or Ranch, offering a choice of dip is so much easier than offering a choice of entrée’. “We are having chicken and sweet potato fries for dinner.” “But I don’t want that.” Ignoring the complaint…”Which would you like, ketchup or cinnamon butter for your fries?”
- “Take a bite at the same time…Ready, set, GO”
- Give choices when appropriate but NOT all the time. You are not a restaurant. It isn’t always going to be their favorite, and that is OK. Say it with a smile and a light hearted tone.
- Tell a story! My mother got us to eat vegetable beef soup by reading us the Little Golden Book, “The Tawny Scrawny Lion.” In the book, the lion eats a big pot of carrot stew every night. So instead of calling the soup vegetable beef soup, she told us we were eating Carrot Stew. We couldn’t get enough. I did the same thing with my daycare and holy smokes, they loved that soup.
- Theme food! Have you been talking about bears? Bears eat berries, and fish, so serve up some bear food. Let your creativity shine here!
- When serving a casserole or something with multiple ingredients, and your child gives you a deer in the headlights look, tell them what is in there! It looks like a wild mess to them! “Oh, guess what is in there, see? It’s hamburger, and you like hamburger. And there are carrots in there too, can you find them?” You just made something unfamiliar feel comfortable for them.
- Use your words! Your words and tone in describing food can get your children excited about coming to the table. Seriously…it is SO EASY
Crunchy Unicorn Curly
Rainbow The Best My favorite
Magic Crazy Special
Think about it. You are 6 years old. Would you rather have broccoli or dinosaur trees? Rainbow fruit or mixed fruit? Magic melt sandwiches or a grilled cheese? Special lettuce or Spinach? Frankenstein juice or Kale smoothies? Come down to their level…it’s fun down here, trust me! One of my favorites was the little girl who declared on her first day of daycare that she didn’t like sloppy joes. I replied, “Well then you are in luck, because these are Messy Moes and they are WAY BETTER.” She took a bite and said, “Wow, these ARE better!”
Sometimes, well-meaning parents can sabotage their child’s eating habits without even meaning to. It is very important that we are careful about the words that we choose in describing our child’s preferences as well as our own. Little ears are always listening, and we want to reinforce good, healthy habits.
“She doesn’t like vegetables.”
“We are working on trying vegetables.”
Allowing your child to say, “Yuck! I don’t like it.”
“That is not polite. You can say, it is not my favorite.”
If you, the parent, don’t like something, instead of “I don’t like broccoli”
“It’s not my favorite, but Uncle Danny loves it.” Then put some on your plate, even if you aren’t going to eat it.
Instead of serving only what you know that they like:
Make sure that you are exposing them to a variety of foods. Research shows that children need to SEE a food on their plate 11 times before they try it and TRY it 7 times before they like it! Keep trying, even if that food is rejected multiple times. That is normal behavior.
Instead of allowing 2nds and 3rds of their favorite foods:
“Yes, you can have another corndog, but you need to take one bite of carrot first.” It’s their choice, but encourage and keep your tone light but firm. If they choose to be done instead, that is fine too.
Above all, sit down with your children and ENJOY their company! Make mealtime a fun, happy time of the day. Trying new things is easy in a safe encouraging and positive environment, so take a deep breath and smile!