“Ew, Mommy, I Don’t Want This!”: Win the Picky Eater Battle (And raise a healthier kid!)
One of the biggest concerns from parents that I hear as a health coach is the challenge of the picky eater. Mainly, “How do I get my kids to eat right when they just refuse?”
Well, I believe that there are three things in life you can’t truly force kids to do. These are: sleep when they don’t want to, potty train before they’re ready, and eat the way you want them to all the time!
Sometimes you may need to lay down the law and say, “This is what our family is eating for dinner!” That works sometimes, but often a little bit of a stealth approach can work wonders in getting a child to willingly eat a new or previously rejected food.
1) Teach your child to “Eat a Rainbow”: Encourage children to choose a variety of fresh fruits and veggies from all colors of the rainbow. Children love visuals like this, finding them both motivating and a source of well-earned pride. Print the chart from the Rachel & the TreeSchoolers Episode 2 Activity Guide where they circle the fruits and vegetables and color in a square that matches each color they eat over the course of a week. You can even watch “Rainbow Salad” from Story Time together, or sing and sign the song, Colors of the Rainbow from My Favorite Things.
2) Go grocery shopping together: Involve your child in choosing some of the ingredients for the week. Encourage them to choose one new healthy food that they haven’t tried before and then have a hand in preparing it at home .
As a side note, the grocery store is also a good place to start having the conversation about making healthy choices. In America (but not in some other countries), it is legal to market to children, and companies do this with gusto. Foods that leave much to be desired nutritionally are packaged with popular characters and dyed colors one would never find in real food, and kids are naturally very drawn to this. Start talking with your children about why we choose food (to nourish our bodies), and that we can make choices based on what the foods do for us, not what fun character is on the box.
3) Give it Time: Sometimes it can take kids as many as 10–12 exposures to a new food before they’ll accept it. This can be frustrating for Mom and Dad, but is in fact, totally normal. Just keep offering the food, especially alongside other foods they may enjoy and time may be all it takes.
4) Try the “one year – one bite” rule: This works really well in our house. When my son is reluctant to eat what is in front of him, I tell him he has to eat one bite for each year-old he is. A four-year-old takes four bites, a seven-year-old takes seven bites, and so on. This way, at least they are trying the food a little at a time.
5) Think cumulative: We’ve been taught to make and eat a balanced meal (protein, veggie, carb), and while this can be good advice, it might not work for your youngster. Instead of stressing too much over what exactly is consumed in one meal, take stock of what is eaten over the course of a day, or even a week. When you look at the big picture, are they getting balanced nutrition? If yes, great! If you’re concerned, check in with your pediatrician for some feedback and advice as needed.
6) Dips and Snack: Children naturally love to dip! So let them dip things in yogurt, hummus, guacamole, and even ketchup. You might be amazed what they will eat when they are allowed to dip it first! Also remember the power of the snack, it’s a great time to sneak in a few missing ingredients or nutrients from meal times in your child’s diet.
7) It’s okay to sneak: Go ahead and puree some zucchini into the pasta sauce, or some veggies into the muffins. There’s nothing wrong with hiding a few extra veggies in other foods and patting yourself on the back for a job well done. While I do encourage this practice, I also encourage you to keep offering the whole fruits and veggies too!
8) Don’t push, but don’t give in either: If your child gets too fixated on a very narrow diet, you could risk her missing out on valuable and necessary nutritional components. Try not to give in to the point of serving the same foods day after day, even if it seems like, “That’s all she will eat!”
Children won’t let themselves starve, so keep offering a consistent variety of healthy choices and implementing some of the techniques from above. Sooner or later you may find you have a little food connoisseur on your hands instead of a picky eater!
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