I talk to parents of picky eaters every day about the struggle to get their
children to eat healthy, and different, foods. Parents come in to my office
defeated and deflated as they share their mealtime “war” stories
with me: their children won’t eat anything that isn’t beige
in color (like milk products, rice, pasta and other carbohydrates); they spit out
all vegetables; they won’t let anything go in their mouth that isn’t
on their list of 10 preferred foods that week. The struggles and stories
are endless from parents trying to ensure their children get the proper
amount of nutrition each day.
Even as a pediatrician, I faced the same struggles as a mom of three boys.
Here are seven ideas that I explored to introduce new foods to my children
when they were small and make mealtime preparation more fun:
Make grocery shopping a family affair. I know this takes more time, but every so often, I took my kids with me
to the grocery store and gave them an active role. Ask your kids to help
by tearing off the produce bags, and let them pick out a few fruits and
vegetables for your meals that week—one can be their favorite and
the other has to be a new one to taste test, but let it be their choice.
Put a new spin on breakfast. I started a weekend tradition where my kids and I made fruit and veggie
breakfast smoothies together. The little ones helped choose the ingredients
and poured them into the blender. Try mixing in things like plain Greek
yogurt and baby spinach to add essential nutrients that can be easily
camouflaged by the sweet tasting fruits.
Give them the freedom of choice. Sometimes my children were more inclined to eat healthy foods if I gave
them options instead of simply making their plates. For dinner, try arranging
a mini buffet of your meal, and include three or four fruit and veggie
options, allowing your kids to choose what they’d like on their plate.
Skewer the snacks. A popular new idea to explore is kid-friendly foods on a stick that you
can either make quickly or allow your kids to help prepare. All you need
are some toothpicks of skewers, and the menu options are endless from
breakfast kabobs to a sandwich on a stick.
Make believe at mealtime. Most kids, including mine, have endless imaginations, so you can imagine
the fun we had when our pasta noodles become “worms” or our
broccoli turns into a tree and we’re the hungry giant. Your kids
might love to use cookie cutters for sandwich shapes, and melon ballers
to create watermelon “soccer balls.”
Invite adventurous eaters to your dinner table. I have a friend whose child will eat anything that’s placed on his
plate, and talks about how much he enjoys the meal. If you have such friend,
invite him over for dinner at your house every so often. You can create
some positive peer pressure, and his enthusiastic spirit for trying new
foods may rub off on your picky eaters.
Praise your little ones for trying new foods. The rule in my house was that my kids needed to try at least two bites
of a new food on their plate. Depending on what the food is, sometimes
it worked, and sometimes I found myself pleading with a stubborn child
to no avail. When your kids do try a new food, even if they don’t
like it, make sure to tell them how proud you are of them for trying it.
Here’s the key to all of these ideas: Get your children involved
in the process and allow them to feel empowered in making healthy food
choices. And, never give up on introducing new foods, over and over again.
It often takes multiple tastes of a new food before your picky eater might
accept it. Tastebuds adjust over time, and when your child’s preferred
foods list changes next week for the umpteenth time, be excited and ready
to offer a new option for adventurous palate.
I would also encourage parents to talk with a pediatrician about your child’s
eating habits if you haven’t already done so. After all, there are
some situations where children have an extreme eating disorder that may
need to be addressed, or you may want to incorporate certain supplements
into your child’s diet to ensure proper nutrition.
Sandra Mathur, DO, is a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group.
Do you have other ideas to help children overcome being a picky eater?
Share it with us in the comments below.
Read more about healthy food options for your little ones: