One of the biggest frustrations I hear over and over again from parents is how difficult it is to get their children to eat healthy foods. Raising healthy eaters is especially challenging when you’re up against picky eating. While I don’t have the power to cure picky eating overnight, I’ve come up with a few solutions for every parent hoping to help their kids embrace healthier foods and add more variety to their diet.
1. ROLE MODEL
Monkey see, monkey do! Children want to mimic their parents so eat the food you want your children to eat. Eat in front of them and eat with them to show what a healthy balanced diet looks like. Show them with your actions and they will eventually follow your lead.
2. EAT TOGETHER
Researchers have confirmed that sharing a family meal is good for the health of all family members. Evidence suggests that children who take part in family meals are 24% more likely to eat healthier foods. Put role modeling in action and aim for at least 3 family meals per week. The entire family should sit down at the table to share a meal.
If dinners don’t work for your family, breakfast, brunch, or lunch are also great times to eat together.
3. PERSISTENTLY INTRODUCE AND EXPOSE YOUR KIDS TO FOODS YOU KNOW ARE HEALTHY
Research shows it can take up to 8-10 times for a child to accept new foods. (Brown, J. (2014). Nutrition Through the Life Cycle, 5th ed. Wadsworth: Australia.) I can’t stress how important it is to be persistent and continue to expose your child to new foods. To add variety to a child’s diet, parents should not serve the same meal 2 days in row. So if yesterday was peanut butter and jelly for lunch, today can be something different.
4. AVOID GRAZING
Constantly snacking all day can fill a child’s little belly making them less hungry at mealtime. Eliminate snacks and high caloric drinks at least 1-2 hours before mealtime. Establish a regular but flexible meal and snack times that work for you and your family and stick to this schedule.
5. UPGRADE WHAT THEY ALREADY KNOW AND LOVE
Try new brands or add new flavors to foods your child already enjoys. Experiment in the kitchen by adding vegetables to meals they already are eating. How about making butternut squash mac and cheese or a spinach quesadillas? Finally, don’t fear condiments or spices such as vinaigrettes, olive oil, butter, cinnamon, lemon juice, fresh tomato sauce, or even ketchup. These will help make vegetables much more palatable to kids and make it easier for them to try new foods.
6. INVOLVE THEM IN THE KITCHEN
Cooking is fun and can be a great way to get children involved with their own food choices. Involve them in everything from meal prep to grocery shopping. Children are great helpers in the kitchen so assign them tasks like tearing lettuce for a salad, stirring soups or sautés (depending on age), and mixing ingredients.
7. TAKE A TRIP TO THE FARM (OR FARMER’S MARKET)
Develop your child’s connection to food by discussing where it comes from and how it’s grown. Plan a fun family trip to the farmers market or a local farm and engage your child in conversation with the farmer.
For added points, you can even grow your own vegetables in your garden! When hitting the farmers market, allow your child to pick out 1 or 2 new foods they want to try or grow. Giving choices between foods empowers your picky eaters in the decision making process and may help them like or accept a new food more.