While some kids are just plain picky no matter what, most have impressionable food tastes. So often times, you can help your children overcome their picky eating behavior by setting some straightforward limits and changing your household food rules. It will surely be an adjustment for both parents and children when changes are made, but it IS possible to be successful. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Prepare one meal, that kids can either choose to eat or not eat. Avoid getting into the habit of making different meals for different tastes, since this deters kids from trying new foods (not to mention it’s more work for you). There may be some complaining and some dinners missed, but after an adjustment period, this will likely end. And until then, no one will starve.
- Involve kids in shopping and meal planning. Turn veggie-eating into an adventure by letting your kids loose at the farmer’s market or in the produce section and allowing them to pick whatever one thing they want each week. Then involve them in the preparation of their item. They’ll be much more likely to try and enjoy whatever they’ve selected.
- Incorporate more veggies into kid-friendly recipes. Mix pureed squash into Mac ‘n cheese, shredded zucchini into meatballs or meatloaf, and finely chopped mushrooms and carrots into pasta sauce, like in this recipe. Don’t think of this as hiding veggies, but rather presenting them in a more appealing way.
- Appeal to kid tastes. Kids often like crunchy raw veggies with dips, or cooked veggies topped with cheese or butter, and there’s no need to fight this. Try serving this type of thing at meal time and you’ll have more success. Here are some easy veggie dip recipes, or you can go crazy and make this Cheetos-topped broccoli (replace cream with fat-free evaporated milk), or try these stuffed sweet potatoes, which can be altered to suit your family’s taste.
- Develop a family rule about dessert. If your family enjoys dessert, pick 2-3 days a week when everyone will have dessert together, regardless of whether they ate their dinner. This will prevent you from demonizing some foods and using others as reward, and will help you avoid the age-old “you can have dessert if you eat 2 more bites of ___” conversation. Serve desserts that incorporate fruit, like apples dipped in caramel sauce, vanilla frozen yogurt topped with berries, or chocolate-banana smoothies…this way, desserts are just another way to get good stuff into your kids’ bellies.
- Let kids pick and choose their indulgences. Try installing a “one treat per day” rule for your children, then give them the power to choose when and on what they spend it. This will give them the control they so desperately want, and will teach them that while you can’t have everything, you can have some things, and it’s up to you to decide what those some things are. If they use up their treat on a cookie at lunchtime and are upset when their sibling is having ice cream after dinner, you can talk with them about their choice and how they can decide to make a different choice tomorrow. (Note: this is a great rule for moms to follow too!)
It may take some time and patience to implement these ideas, but they will eventually become habit. And who knows, soon your kids may be eagerly chomping into plain broccoli like my little friend, Brooklynn (above).