Tips to help that picky child to eat
By Mike Salzinski
My wife and I both currently work as chef instructors, and between the two of us have over 30 years of experience in the food industry. Even so, we still find ourselves challenged on a daily basis trying to get our kids to be open minded and try new foods. Our daughter, who is six, is actually very good about eating a wide variety of healthy foods, but our two-year-old son is a typically fussy eater who is much more likely to turn his head and scream "NO!" than he is to allow something unfamiliar past his lips. Over the years we've discovered a few effective strategies that we rely on to encourage our kids to try new foods (or at least just eat what's in front of them).
- Limit afternoon snacks. Don't allow your kids to snack on anything for at least a couple of hours before dinnertime, and when they do have a snack after school, make sure it's always something light and non-starchy, like apple slices or grapes. They are invariably more willing to eat what's on their plate when they are actually hungry.
- Get them involved in the planning and preparation. Let your kids make the call between a few healthy choices for that meal's menu. Show them that cooking is fun! The more connected they feel to the process, the more likely it is they'll eat. The feeling of pride that comes from helping with the prep and cooking does wonders when it comes time to eat what's on the plate in front of them.
- Games are a great way to get kids excited about new foods. Serve your picky eater their meal on a fun plate with animation hiding under the food to encourage them to make a game out of uncovering the pictures by eating their dinner. You can also play games like Crunch a Color during mealtime. Selective eaters can earn points for eating a colorful plate of veggies, fruits, proteins and grains. They can also get bonus points for trying new foods. Have the kids play against each other or make it a family affair.
- Many parents underestimate the power of the daily family dinner. We're all busy, but sitting at the table as a family eating the same food for dinner goes a long way in establishing a lifetime of healthy, open minded eating habits.
- Keep the food on the plate in small portions so your picky eater is less likely to feel overwhelmed. Also, pair a familiar, well-liked food together on the plate with something new - this seems to take away some of the fear of the unknown.
- Make the process of eating a new food fun and interactive. A little bowl of some sort of healthy "dip" can get a picky eater to suddenly love something you were sure they'd throw on the floor. Applesauce, peanut butter, low-fat ranch dressing, or some warm marinara are all great incentives.
- If you're lucky, your picky eater has an adventurous older sibling that can assist in the struggle. Sometimes all it takes is seeing an admired older kid eating and enjoying something new to get a wary diner passionate about a particular item.
Most importantly, always keep your cool. When the frustration seems to be more than you can handle, take a deep breath and remember that everything is actually OK. Your picky eater isn't going to starve, and a parent displaying anger in those situations may have the unintended effect of creating an even more stubborn and closed minded diner. Tomorrow is another day, and repetitive gentle encouragement is the winning formula for overcoming your picky eater's challenges.