**We are so thrilled to present this guest post from Anjali, a San Francisco based mom, health coach and founder of pickyeaterblog.com! Anjali started her blog when she married her picky husband and has continued to offer recipes, tips, and valuable resources for parents of picky eaters (she’s now a mom herself!). Be sure to visit her site for more great tips! **
10 Ways to Deal with a Picky Eater (and stay sane in the process)
We’ve all been there. You’ve spent hours slaving away over the kitchen stove, making a healthy, balanced, delicious and nutritious meal for your little one. You proudly bring it over to your child, they take one look at it, and say “that’s yucky. I don’t want that.”
If you are a parent, you likely have experienced some sort of frustration around food at some point or another: if you have an overeater, or an under eater, or a picky eater, eating and kids is always a really tricky topic that I get asked about. The problem is, picky eating is a normal rite of passage in a sense: it helps kids assert their own needs and preferences, helps them to establish their “self” as separate from their parents, etc. But just because it’s developmental, that doesn’t mean you should give in to their requests to only have grilled cheese and french fries for every meal.
Here are a few tips on how to help get your picky eaters to eat a variety of foods (and enjoy it!):
1. Eat together. Your kids need to see you eating healthy food: modeling the behavior you want them to demonstrate is important. They also need to experience sitting down and enjoying meals together. It doesn’t have to be dinner necessarily, but sitting down as a family with only healthy options on the table is an important habit to help kids learn about different fruits, veggies and other healthy foods. [For more ways to get your family to eat together, click here.]
2. Shop together. Take your kids with you to the grocery store. While you’re there, have them pick out a fruit or a veggie they want to try. Get them excited about produce by telling them stories about where it comes from, what it’s called, etc. A lot of times kids will refuse to eat something because they’re not familiar with it — that “green thing” looks scary to them. But if they’ve seen it often, know what its called, etc. they are more likely to not reject it!
3. Don’t keep junk food in the house. Out of sight, out of mind. If the chips and cookies aren’t around, your kids can’t eat them. They may resist at first, but when they get hungry, they’ll start munching the carrot sticks. Keep healthy foods on hand, focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables. If they are really hungry, they’ll eat the healthy stuff!
4. Don’t overdo snacks or in-between meals. Sometimes kids refuse to eat because they really aren’t hungry. Snacking is usually a big cause of this. Focus on giving them fruits and veggies at every meal (breakfast/lunch/dinner), and don’t give them a snack close to meal time.
5. Don’t give up. Kids taste buds are constantly evolving. And most things probably will taste “yucky” to them at the beginning. But the more they taste it, the more they will like it. So don’t give up! Instead, try to pair foods they’re picky about (e.g. spinach) with something they like (e.g. whole wheat pasta). You’ll find that combining the foods together will help them to enjoy the picky food more, and eventually enjoy it by itself.
6. Be ok with wasting a little food. Repeal the “clean your plate” rule – it’s important that kids learn their own hunger cues, and if they really are full there is no need to force them to finish everything on their plate. Instead, focus on getting them to at least try the healthy foods on their plate as part of their meal.
7. Start with the healthy foods in each meal. For example, at breakfast, serve the fruit first, then give your child the more carb/protein portion of their meal. Or at dinner, serve the veggies first, and then “reward” your child with the carb/protein portion of their meal (e.g. a sandwich or pasta, etc). Your child is more likely to eat the fruits/veggies at the beginning of the meal when they’re the hungriest, especially if there is the promise of getting their favorite part of the meal once they’re done with their veggies.
8. Use bribes in a smart way. Bribes can be a powerful tool to get your child to try new, healthy foods. But it’s important to bribe with something they like that’s not junk food. For example, if your child loves pancakes — make whole wheat pancakes (and maybe add some flax or pureed fruit into the batter), and serve them a fruit or a veggie first. The pancake becomes the “treat” after they finish the part of the meal they usually might reject. Or if they love sandwiches, serve them veggies and give them their sandwich as their “treat” after they’ve taken a few bites of veggies.
9. Don’t make separate meals for your kids. The best way to get them to try new foods is to only have one option — whatever it is you’re preparing for the family as a whole. The more they get used to eating what you and your partner might be eating, the more likely they are to try new things that you serve them.
10. Don’t cut out treats altogether. The important thing here is moderation. If you completely ban cake or cookies or ice cream, your kids will go overboard and eat way too much when they do get them. They’ll also develop a bad association with junk food vs. healthy food. There are times and places where kids should be able to enjoy the junk food (like at a birthday party) once in a while. They should understand that there are times and places where they should indulge in food – they shouldn’t feel guilty about eating anything. A treat once in a while is totally fine, provided that your kids have eaten their fruits/veggies/whole grains/lean protein earlier in the day!
**Thanks so much, Anjali for all these great tips! We love the idea of not giving up–and it’s so smart to pair something familiar with something new to make them more likely to try it. Dealing with picky eating can definitely be a test of patience, but if we all keep trying, we’ll get there eventually!**