Getting Smart with Picky Eaters
I love having picky eaters at the table and making more than one meal at dinner time…
– said no mom, ever!
How do I get my kids to finish their plates without a two-hour tantrum or a negotiator present with us at every single meal?
This is a question some parents can’t seem to find a solution for!
I don’t know about you, but it drives me crazy! Just eat kiddo!
Honestly, it’s not really the fact that I want them to eat veggies for their healthy nutrients, of course, it does have an influence in my decisions, but no, what I value the most is developing an open-mindedness in life. So not just vegetables, but all kinds of food! I don’t want to raise a picky eater, I want to raise a kid that will not be afraid of tasting something new, that won’t be afraid of the word healthy or of the color green or anything that doesn’t look like a pizza, a hamburger or a pogo! I want a family that knows what an avocado is, that understands what I’m talking about when I say words like hummus, beets, spinach, asparagus and more of that vibrant goodness the world has to offer!
With that being said, let me tell you something; it’s not as easy as it seems! But of course, you know that! Why else would you be here reading this post today?
When I started being part of my boyfriend’s family, I made it clear that healthy nutrition and open-mindedness were important values of mine. It’s not that they didn’t eat well in the past, not at all. The issue, in my opinion, was that they were not eating a wide enough variety of food. Chicken tenders, corn, rice and pork chops were a big part of their diet. You can imagine a bit the look I got when I introduced eggplants to them!
After 2 years of practice, I’ve finally mastered the art of introducing new ingredients to kids… although, I’m still trying to figure out the part about the grown-up men who have no intention of changing food habits at all… but in his defense, he has still made a huge improvement in faking liking something in front of the kids and that’s more than enough for me!
Now, enough of the small talk; here are a few approaches that work wonders if you have a picky eater at the table. Try them to see which one works for you and your family (oh, and don’t be scared to mix and match!).
Hold your horses, FIRST.... What NOT to do with picky eaters!
- BRIBE WITH A DESERT
- FORCE YOUR CHILD TO FINISH THEIR PLATES
- NOT SHOW A GOOD EXAMPLE
- DEPRIVING THEM OF ALL SWEETS AND JUNK FOOD
- NOT UNIFYING THE FAMILY MEAL
Bribing or punishing your child using food is actually quite harmful in your process of teaching them good and healthy eating habits. As much tempting as it is to simply say: “eat your carrots or no dessert!”, you should abstain yourself from doing so. There is more and more research being made today about our relationship with food. Most of us have been raised in a world where sweets and junk food were the forbidden fruit, which has made us crave it even more! We need to break that bad pattern now with our own kids.
Us adults tend to have a bad habit of not listening to our stomach when it’s telling us we have had enough. We are used to finishing our plates or eating too fast and not giving our body time to communicate to us that it’s full. Kids, however, naturally know when they’ve had enough. It’s instinct for them. For that reason, you should never force a child to finish their plates if they are not hungry anymore.
This one is simple. How do you expect your kid to have healthy eating habits if their number one role model isn’t making any efforts on themselves?
We live in a society of consumers and sadly junk food is part of that. Instead of banishing all sweets from your house, you should guide your kids in making healthy decisions. If you deprive them of chocolate, candies, and chips, they will see those items as “forbidden fruits” and simply want more. In the long run, this will affect the way they see food. They will go off to college and stuff their faces in potato chip bags and eat Nutella with a spoon, guaranteed!
So next time they ask for chocolate, instead of saying just “no”, try to explain that it’s not a good time right now, but that they will get some after supper, or tomorrow. This way, they know they will get some in time.
Don’t start making 1 or 2 variations for supper to accommodate a picky eater. Make one meal for the whole family. Also, don’t assume that your kids won’t eat this or that, you don’t have to do “kid-friendly” food, you just need to give them time to adjust if they are not used to discovering new food. If you have a kid with an allergy, try to find substitute meals that all can eat, don’t cook something special just for that one child.
Now for the GOOD stuff!
- THE “BITE SIZE BUFFET”
- THE “SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW, BUT NOT NECESSARILY BLUE”
- THE “IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, JOIN THEM”
- THE “LITTLE HELPERS”
- THE “BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT”
- THE “LOOK GOOD, TASTE GOOD”
- THE “LAST RESORT”
I personally love this approach. Ok, so we’re not supposed to force our kids to finish their plates, but now you’re going to tell me that your kids are smart enough to finish eating what they like and suddenly feel full when it’s time to tackle the broccolis, am I right? Yes, they are clever… but we are wiser!
What you want to do is basically make small plates to start with. When I say small, I’m really talking about bite size small. Eating a modest portion and asking for more after is more encouraging than having a pile of food in front of you and already starting the battle of how many fractions of the plate they need to eat.
So let’s say for supper we are having rice, chicken, and asparagus. You would put 1-2 small spoonful of rice, 1-2 bite-sized pieces of chicken and 1-2 bite-size pieces of asparagus on their plates. You make it clear to them that they have to finish their plates and afterward, they can decide what else they want, even if it doesn’t include more vegetables. This way, it’s practically impossible for them to not be hungry anymore on the first plate, so you know that they are bluffing if they say so.
What if they give you a tantrum and don’t even want to eat that small piece? In this case, you tell them it’s ok, but you make it clear that they will not be eating until snack time, which is in a few hours. And you have to keep this rule. Don’t cave in. It’s ok for a child to be hungry a few hours, on one night they will be ok I promise!
With consistency, they will learn to accept the new process and the food debates should end.
Another trick I found that works best, is to always serve something new with something they are used to. So let’s say you want to introduce a vegan lasagna, or fish tacos, or anything that they are not familiar with and that usually is a meal of its own. Well instead of serving it as a meal, you would serve it as a side dish that accompanies something they are used to eating. Ex: serve a vegan lasagna roll with steak on the side! The whole family will be more willing to try something new this way, believe me!
This one is fun because everyone is involved in the planning process and everyone is usually happy about it! It’s quite easy, all the family members get to pick one supper they want for the week. The chosen supper has to be eaten by all and with absolutely no fuss. That means you too momma! You have to eat the pizza, or tacos or whatever their little hearts desire for one night, but then, on YOUR night, it’s time to shine! That’s when you pick something completely new that you wanted to introduce. And no one gets to whine about it because they know that the next day will be of their choosing.
If your not willing to do this every week, you could do a special week here and there with this concept.
The title really says it all; get your kids to help out with supper! Young or old, age doesn’t really matter; the gratification will likely encourage them to eat what they have created. Our oldest, when he was 8 years old, we asked him to chop the ends of the green beans. He absolutely adored doing it and I’ve never seen him fussy over green beans since! He’s actually excited when he sees the bag because he wants to help to chop them like a ninja. Our toddler, 4 years old, decided what color was going to be her smoothie and what to put inside. She was excited and proud to drink it afterward. It’s those little things that will make discovering new food more compelling.
This is more of a trust them approach, but with guidance. You let them make their own food choices but with some limitations of course. For example, you are making a grilled cheese for lunch: you ask them “Would you like some cucumbers or peppers with that?” They will then decide which vegetable they want themselves. But see, you tricked them, because you only gave them healthy choices.
Another good way to guide them in their decisions is to talk about benefits of certain foods.
For example, you eat almonds to have more energy and you eat spinach for power, etc. Impress them by comparing with their favorite superheroes. The idea is that they will eventually learn to make their own healthy decisions.
It’s the weekend and you have more time? Take the extra 5 mins and make fun presentations with the food you present to your kids. The little bear you created out of raisins, toast, banana and peanut butter WILL make a difference! If it looks good, it probably tastes good too! At least, that’s probably what is going on in your toddler’s head. Make a tree out of your broccoli and raw veggie dip. Make colorful smoothies and top it with a funky straw! Make happy faces with the ingredients on the plate. Anything! Have fun with it and they will too!
Ok, so you’ve tried everything else, and you can’t seem to get them to eat their veggies.. so this plan might just be your last resort! I have to say though, it won’t be effective in broadening your child’s food palate and it won’t encourage them in the direction of being less of a picky eater, but it will get those nutrients inside their little bellies. Again, I strongly believe that this technique should be only used if all of the above didn’t work.
So here it is; hide them! They can’t fuss about something that they don’t know about! Use your clever mom’s imagination and hide vegetables inside soups, sauces, mashed potatoes, and cakes.. yes, cakes too!
What I do strongly suggest to do is keep serving vegetables on the side (even if there’s some hidden in the meal), but without pushing them to finish their plates. Maybe they won’t touch it, but at least the option is there if they decide they want to taste. So even if you end up with this option, keep trying others as well. Don’t give up mamma!
Here are a few ‘evil mom’ ideas just for you, muahaha;
- Make mashed potatoes blended with one or more of the following: cauliflowers, sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, leeks, butternut squash, etc. You can even use this technique when your making shepherd’s pie!
- Hide small cut vegetables or, even better, blend them in sauces like marinara. Bell peppers, onions, celery, spinach, and carrots are all good options for this kind of sauce.
- Hide cauliflowers in Alfredo sauce
- Hide butternut squash, carrots or cauliflowers inside your mac and cheese; it’s really delicious and discreet!
- Hide spinach, avocado or carrots in smoothies. Good combinations are: spinach and berries or carrots and mangoes.
- Hide zucchinis in cakes! They are delicious, trust me. Zucchini cakes are so moist, you can even make it chocolate flavor!
- You can hide a bunch of other healthy ingredients in deserts, like sweet potatoes, avocado and more!
So what about you mammas? Got any juicy tips to share with us? Don’t be a stranger, leave a comment.