Over the last few weeks, as we’ve been sharing back-to-school lunch ideas, some commenters have said they don’t know how to get their kids to eat any of these healthy options. And the truth is converting a picky eater can take many months or even years – so patience is key! But don’t let that scare you away, because it’s incredibly worth all the effort in the end.
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So today I’m sharing some tips that I hope will help … in both written form (below) and video form.
How to cut out processed food with picky eaters
- First impressions count.
Make veggies in a way that will give kids a good first impression. For example, bread cauliflower just like you would chicken nuggets (recipe can be found in my Fast & Fabulous cookbook) and make sure to call them “Cauliflower Nuggets.” Then, after that goes over well, try roasting the cauliflower without the breading next time and say, “Remember, this is the cauliflower you liked,” and hope for the best! Don’t be afraid to offer a yummy dipping sauce if you think that will help the transition. :)
- Try new foods over and over again (no matter what happened last time).
I never say, “Don’t put asparagus on her plate, because she doesn’t like it.” Nope, she’s gotta try a bite each and every time because it’s never the same exact two pieces of asparagus, and it’s not always cooked the same way either. Also, spitting out the food is not allowed! I always tell my kids (and especially their friends), “It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t like it, but it will hurt my feelings if you don’t try it.” And another helpful reminder for especially leery ones, “It won’t hurt if you eat a bite of something you don’t like.”
- Cook new foods many different ways.
On the note of the dreaded asparagus, I do make my kids try a new food each time I make it, but I also make an effort to switch things up. If steamed asparagus didn’t go over so well last time, give it a rest and try it diced and mixed into some creamy risotto next time. That trick actually did finally win over my oldest daughter … and that was after many previous failed asparagus attempts!
- Get them involved.
There are so many different tasks related to cooking and eating! Get your kids to help you pick out recipes, write out the shopping list, purchase items at the grocery store, prep cook, or even make dinner for you by themselves (depending on their age). My girls love when I give them their own shopping list and let them loose in the grocery store (they are 10 and 12 years old). These are all important life skills they don’t learn in school, although you can always sign them up for a cooking class or camp – we’ve done both and my kids really enjoy them!
- Only offer one new food at a time.
Think of three foods you despise and how you’d feel if those were the only things on your dinner plate. Instead, help your little ones ease into trying new things by offering one unfamiliar (or unwanted) item at a time along with some old favorites.
- Don’t experiment with new foods in the lunch box (at least, in my opinion)!
Some will and do disagree with me on this. One mom commented that since the pressure of her watching is gone, she thinks it works better for her kids to try new foods at school. For me I feel like the lunch period is short, and they are hungry, so I don’t think it’s the best time to take chances unless I’ve seen them eat it and like it at home first.
- Discuss the changes.
Most kids want to do the right thing so if you explain that these changes will help make mommy and daddy (and their little bodies!) healthier and live longer, it might just be the wake up call they need. You can also look into watching some documentaries together (especially for older children) such as Food, Inc. and In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan even has a young reader’s edition of his Ominvore’s Dilemma book.
- Divulge the hidden food.
I know many parents hide veggies and such, but when your child grows up and moves out – they’ll still think spinach is gross and that they’ve never eat it if it’s been “hidden” in their smoothies all along. I’m not saying you have to tell them up front, but please at least tell them about the hidden food afterward so they know it wasn’t so bad after all.
- Don’t harp – keep it fun and lighthearted.
You know when you’re taking things too far, and it’s sometimes a difficult line not to cross. But do your best to keep things pleasant when it comes to trying new foods. Set a rule about trying things (see #2 above) so everyone knows what to expect and be sure to stick to it. And if you’re really desperate to lighten things up, consider the taste testing games I’ve shared (for kids of any age)!
- Be patient and don’t give up!
Again, it can take many months or even years, and I’m here to tell you it’s not always easy! So I can completely understand why parents want to give up and just stick to feeding their kids favorite foods only. But the health of your child is important, so you’ve got to power through! I promise when you finally get some “wins” under your belt, it’ll be so worth it and rewarding. The only vegetable my younger daughter used to eat (before we cut out processed food) was frozen peas. But the minute we pledged to change our diets I started trying a lot harder, and I’m so glad I did. She now loves salad, broccoli, spinach and just about any veggie covered in cheese. :)
I’d love to hear your picky eater tips in the comments below!