Most parents struggle at one point or another with a picky eater, and the most important thing to remember is to never give up! My youngest daughter frustrates me almost daily with her pickiness – luckily my older daughter is quite the opposite- but clearly since we are all doing the 100 Days of Real Food together I’ve had to try almost anything and everything to get my 3-year-old to eat whole foods. I hope some of these tips that I have learned along the way, which are all based my own personal experiences and observations, can help you make some breakthroughs with your picky eater as well. And of course please keep in mind that each suggestion is not necessarily going to work for every child out there, but you certainly never know until you try. And as always, if you have any additional tips or suggestions from your own experiences please feel free to leave a comment!
- Take baby steps when trying to convert your kids to whole foods. First of all, start with some familiar foods by switching out the beloved processed version with a healthier alternative. For example, my daughters both used to love the white store-bought flour tortillas, so one of the first things I did was make them some homemade whole-wheat tortillas. I also switched out the boxed granola cereal we used to eat (that was full of sugar and other junk) with some homemade granola. Since the new tortillas and granola were so similar to what they used to eat those were some of the easier transitions for my girls. For more challenging situations (like the things that look totally “different” than what they are used to), one possibility is to break the habit by going months without giving them the problem food at all. Then introduce the whole food version. Take a certain macaroni that comes in a blue box, for example. I found with my girls that we went so long without even speaking the words “macaroni and cheese” that they were more than thrilled to eat my non-orange homemade version when it was finally offered.
- Don’t always feel the need to reward with an unhealthy “treat”. Use a healthy food item they love as the incentive for them to eat the other stuff. I know my younger daughter loves cheese so I start her dinner plate off with a small piece of cheese, and then when she asks for more I tell her she has to take a bite of veggies first.
- First impressions are important…even when it comes to food. With my own children I have found that the way I introduce a new food to them can make or break their opinion of it. For example, if you want your kids to like zucchini, first try offering them some delicious cake-like zucchini bread. Let them have it that way a couple of times to help develop a good impression of “zucchini”. Then eventually introduce it either breaded or with a sauce until you can work up to having them eat and accept it plain. Below are some other examples that can help with good first impressions, but for this to work you must always tell them what it is called the first time you serve it!
- Sweet potato fries -> baked sweet potatoes
- Chocolate covered strawberries or (real) strawberry ice cream -> plain strawberries
- Carrot cake -> carrots
- Banana pancakes -> bananas
- Baked apples (with cinnamon and honey) -> raw apples
- Lots of moms already know about hiding veggies in their kid’s food. While I am definitely a believer, I prefer not to do this more than half the time. My theory is that one day, when my picky daughter is 12, she might think that she has never eaten a carrot and doesn’t like it…now where is that going to get us? And on the occasions when I do hide veggies in their food I try to always tell them about it during (or afterward).
- Get them in the kitchen to help you make some healthy meals. If you don’t already ask your children to cook with you it is never too late (or too early) to start! Even a 1-year-old can help you stir pancake batter. I learned a valuable lesson in this department with my youngest daughter. My husband, oldest daughter, and I (who all like sushi – with brown rice of course) were making homemade sushi. My 5-year-old was on a stool at the counter and had her own cutting board, rice bowl, soy sauce, platter of cut veggies, and bamboo-rolling mat. My 3-year-old desperately wanted to “play” along at the counter just like her older sister, but I told her she could only do so if she would eat the sushi that she made. I almost entered a state of shock when it worked…she not only chose vegetables to go in her sushi roll, but she ate it too! And thanks to that good first impression she will now eat sushi anytime and anywhere!
- Get rid of the bad stuff. Whether you give it to a friend, donate it, or throw it away I guarantee that you will have better luck with any child in any household if the highly processed foods are no longer an option! This works with adults too. :)
- Offer them the right choices. If you know that your kid likes apples then offer that to them instead of a bag of chips. There are a lot of kids out there who like a decent amount of healthy foods and in most cases would eat those foods if that’s simply what their parents offered them.
- Last and probably the most important tip of all…have patience and do not give up on your picky eater! I like to joke that my younger daughter will eat 1 in 10 new meals that I serve her. Even though it is far and few between, the one meal that she does eat makes all my effort worthwhile. Even though I know she will rarely eat the new meal I am serving her I still always offer it to her anyway (with at least one thing on the plate that she does like). On a few occasions this has paid off when I least expected it…with green bell peppers (in fajitas), a bowl of chili, and even lima beans!
Some other helpful posts…
- “Whole food” snacks for kids (and adults!)
- For convenience: The best store-bought snacks
- Cool summer treat makeover