Does your child refuse to eat anything other than pizza and chicken nuggets? Do you struggle to get them to try new foods? You are not alone!
As many as one-third of parents struggle with picky eaters. By the time a child is five years old, most children have established their food preferences. Early food preferences can link childhood and adult health. When children learn smart food habits at a young age, they bring those into adulthood. And we all know it’s much easier to learn a good habit than break a bad one!
Eating a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, is essential to get all the nutrients you need to stay healthy. However, parents may find it challenging to convince their children to try new, unfamiliar foods once their kids have set their preferences. So you want to introduce your kids to lots of different foods starting in infancy before they establish their likes and dislikes. As they get older, it helps your kids make good food decisions when they know how foods take care of their bodies.
At HealthStart, we give children the science to understand how specific foods keep our brains and bodies healthy. For example, HealthStart teaches that vegetables are rich in nutrients like Vitamin C and antioxidants, which help boost your immune system, preventing illness.
Below are 10 tips to help deal with picky eaters.
1. Explain that food is a gift
Did you know food is a gift? That’s right; food is a gift. Someone took the time to grow it, get it to the store, and prepare it for them to eat. You can also remind your child that when we receive a gift, we are thankful. Ask your child, “What do you say when you receive a gift? Thank you.” Then you can further explain, “So when someone offers you a new food, you try it, so you don’t hurt the giver’s feelings.” You will also want your child to know that they don’t have to like it, they just have to try it. By trying it, they may discover it tastes pretty good.
2. Practice flexible thinking
HealthStart teaches little ones that it’s important always to try something at least once because that’s how our brains grow and get stronger. In HealthStart’s Snack Science Ep. #33, HealthStart Sharon talks all about flexible thinking and how it makes dealing with change or new things a lot easier. Flexible thinking helps us think about something differently, like foods we think we may not like. By being flexible, kids stay open to foods that might otherwise seem scary or unappealing.
3.Try a little bit at a time
Your child may be hesitant to try something new, especially if they see a lot of it on their plate. A big portion of something may discourage them from trying it. That’s why it’s helpful to introduce them to a new food a little bit at a time. Serving small portions will help avoid overwhelming your child. If they like it, they can ask for more!
4. Try and try again
Younger children tend to test out new foods by smelling or touching, and they might even take a bite and spit it right back out. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Instead, encourage your child with repeated exposure. For example, one night, you could serve a side of green beans, and the next, you include them in a casserole. It’s also helpful to talk about the particular food’s color, shape, smell, and texture to help your child consider more than the food’s taste.
5. Make it fun
Most likely, your child won’t find plain broccoli as visually appealing as a fun dessert. However, making food in a new way, such as creating beautiful snack art, will help your child be more willing to eat foods like fruits and vegetables. An excellent example of making food fun are these Apple Nachos or Hungry Caterpillar SnacksHungry Caterpillar Snack, which are sure to excite your little one.
6. Pair a familiar food with a new one
Another great way to interest your little one in eating new foods is to incorporate foods they already know and love. A great example is to bring in one of their favorite dips or sauces to eat along with broccoli, carrots, or other veggies. You can even whip up a dip that has veggies mixed right into it like this Spinach Yogurt Dip.
7. Get your kid involved
Kids are much more likely to be willing to try foods if they are involved. Next time you’re at the grocery store, have your child help choose the fruits, vegetables, and proteins that look tasty or interesting to them. You can also take them to local Farmer’s Markets to see foods they might not see at the grocery store or discover fruits and veggies in season. While at home, encourage your child to help wash the fruit and vegetables and prepare snacks or meals.
8. Prepare meals/snacks together
Continue involving your child in the meal process by asking them to help prepare what they will eat. While young children may not be able to help with every task, you can still get them involved. Even the youngest can help pour ingredients in a bowl or mix ingredients together. When they help, they connect to their food and are inspired to eat it since they made it with their own two hands!
HealthStart’s Snack Science YouTube series features various simple snack recipes that even the pickiest of eaters will love. Plus, children as young as five can make them all on their own! Check out Ep. #25 to learn how to make Watermelon Pizza.
9. Be creative
There are tons of ways to incorporate a mixture of foods into your child’s meals. You can get creative by sneaking veggies into dishes like a smoothie or spaghetti sauce. When you add veggies to meals in this way, your child obtains the variety of nutrients they need while being exposed to foods in a new way. You can even be creative with desserts! Try making these yummy and nutritious, Healthy Avocado Brownies to sneak in tons of vitamins, fiber, and even healthy fats.
10. Set a good example
Your child picks up their eating habits from you, so showing them that you are willing to try new foods and make healthy choices is extremely important. When they see you eat healthy foods, you encourage them to do so, and you may even find a new food that you both like!
No matter what tips and tricks you try, just remember that your child’s eating habits won’t change overnight. And that’s ok! It’s the small steps you take each day that will promote a lifetime of healthy living. Let us know which tips you plan to try in the comments below.