Help with Picky Eaters ~ Getting Kids That are Picky Eaters to Eat Their Meals at Dinner
HOW TO GET OUR LITTLE PICKY EATERS TO EAT
Parents know how important good nutrition is for growing children. There is no need to give up on a picky eater. With a little imagination and some creativity, getting your child to eat well can be fun for both of you.
Since the beginning of time, parents have fought the battle of getting kids to eat a healthy, well-balanced meal. We prepare it, but they don’t want to eat it! It seems that no parent escapes this. We have put together some information and tips that will hopefully help all parents in the situation of trying to get picky eaters to eat.
First things first. It’s the consumption in a week that’s important, not in an individual day. If you are fortunate enough to have your child eat a new/undesired food twice a week at first, consider your week a success. Gradually serve him 3 times a week. Work towards eating a new/undesired dish all 7 days, or at least 5-6 times a week. We also need to remember that toddlers have toddler-size appetites. Oftentimes, they just aren’t hungry. If your child only wants a tiny bit of anything at dinner, don’t despair and force the child to eat more than he is interested in. When he is hungry, he will eat. You do need to watch, however, that he isn’t skipping dinner/picking at his food, and then wanting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before he goes to bed. This can be okay once in a while, but you don’t want any bad habits established here.Watch your eating schedule. If you are eating lunch at 2, then there’s a good possibility he won’t be hungry for dinner at 6. Likewise, if he eats lunch at 12 and a healthy-size snack at 4 (even if it’s a “healthy” snack), chances are he’s not going to want dinner at 6 either. But he might be hungry at 8. Try to stick to a schedule that works for you and for your own peace of mind, and don’t vary if possible. He may eat a small snack at 3 and ask you for something else at 5. Chances are he will be hungry for dinner if you don’t give in and allow him to eat something at 5.
Stay calm. If your child can sense that you’re not pleased with his eating habits, it will become a battle of wills. Threats and punishments only reinforce the power struggle, and the dinner table should not be a battlefield.
Most toddlers prefer foods that are familiar to them, and have a reluctance to try new foods. Do not force your child to eat the new food, but let him understand that you expect him to at least taste it. If he rejects the new/undesired food, don’t assume he will never again try it. He may need several exposures to the new food and see others eating it before he thinks the food is safe to eat and takes the first bite. After several meals where he is served the food and has tasted it, he should learn the food is okay to eat. Start offering new foods, veggies in particular, as soon as you’ve been given the okay by your pediatrician. Tasting new food is important to establish in late infancy before the strong, independent mind of the toddler emerges! (Beware the “terrible twos”!) It is easy to get your child to continue eating something if he can’t even remember when he first tasted it.
Cut the new/undesired food into small pieces, and only serve a small amount at first. Whether it’s a piece of broccoli or a piece of fish, you will be more successful in having your child try the food if it’s a few little pieces. Children often touch or smell new food, and may even put it in their mouths and then take it back out again. Don’t despair- at least it made it into the mouth! Add more pieces each week. Make sure your serving sizes match your child’s appetite. Even with foods he likes, only serve what you know he is capable of eating. A huge plate of anything is overwhelming to your child. Serving dinner on a small plate is also a good idea. Make the plate size match the person eating the meal, and he won’t feel he is being asked to eat a ton of food he’s not interested in. Set a good example. Don’t take more food than you can eat, either, so you are throwing something away. If you don’t have to finish your beans, why should he?
While encouraging him to eat the new/undesired food, don’t ask about taste! Ask him what he thinks of the shape, the texture, the color, etc. This tends to refocus his thinking and he won’t concentrate so much on how it tastes, which is usually the only thing a child focuses on given the opportunity.
While you never want to get into the habit of making only certain foods for your child, don’t be afraid to offer a vegetable that he likes several times a week. After all, if there is a veggie he doesn’t turn his nose up at, you need to take advantage. However, don’t make him corn while the rest of the family is eating carrots. This will only open the door for him to pick and choose what he wants for everything. But if he likes corn, don’t hesitate to serve it several times a week, and try serving the veggie he’s not wild about once a week. Gradually, cut back on the corn, and add a second night of a different veggie.
Save drinks for last. It is a common practice to serve a drink with the meal. Smaller kids love to drink. Filling their stomach with liquid will diminish their appetite. Later, when the drink fullness wears off, it’s bedtime and they are whining for food. Let them eat when they are hungry and serve them something to drink after they have eaten at least half of their meal.
Give your child the opportunity to make choices. For example, ask, “Do you want corn or broccoli for dinner?” Don’t open with, “What vegetable do you want to eat tonight?” That question will probably be answered with an emphatic “NONE!” There is generally more success if the child knows you served the food because it is the vegetable he requested. If you take your child to the grocery store with you, ask him to help you pick out several vegetables to eat for dinner.
Experiment with both raw and cooked vegetables. Oftentimes, kids will have a preference, and actually like eating them a specific way, but have no interest in eating them the other way. If he likes raw, don’t force cooked. Count your blessings.
Be creative. If your child likes ketchup, serve a small piece of fish, chicken, etc. with a smiley face of ketchup on the top. This can also work with dipping veggies; use whatever condiment works and make a smiley face, a sun, a cloud, etc. on the plate for him to dip the veggies into. If he will eat a certain food only a certain way, serve it this way! Maybe he likes green beans smothered in applesauce. While it may be disgusting to us adults, if it gets him to eat the green beans, then by all means have the applesauce on hand. (Hopefully, he will outgrow this!) Never doubt the power of Ranch dressing, Parmesan cheese, and cheese sauce, either.
Don’t be afraid to be sneaky. If spaghetti is something your child loves, get out the food processor/blender. Add blended carrots, broccoli, onions, spinach, etc. to your sauce. If you’ve never done this before, though, only add one vegetable at a time. If you throw a whole bunch in, chances are he will recognize the taste difference, and may refuse to eat the spaghetti. You can try this with other entrees, too. Squash is a very mild-tasting veggie, and with the correct color choice, can be slipped into several entrees. Don’t try to sneak pureed zucchini into the mac and cheese, but you may be able to pull off adding a little butternut squash.
Keep in mind, though, as your child grows, there will still be foods he won’t eat. We all have our preferences and no one likes everything.
While not usually near the problem that vegetables are, if it’s fruit he isn’t interested in, then try making a smoothie. Freeze fruit or use frozen fruit. Start with a cup of milk, and add frozen strawberries, raspberries, blueberries (but watch for seeds here; this may turn him off), or bananas. If the fruit is frozen, it gives the texture of a milkshake. Toss it all in the blender, and blend until smooth. You can experiment with fruit amounts and combinations. Add a bit of vanilla extract for additional flavor. Smoothies are much healthier than juices, too, which tend to be heavier on sugar content.
Establishing healthy eating habits in toddlers and young children should begin as soon as possible. Don’t give up hope on successfully introducing vegetables to your child. Almost all adults have certain vegetables that they don’t like, but I’ve never met an adult that refuses to eat all vegetables. Experiment and be patient- good things come to those who wait!
Allow for input from your child – Children often establish taste preferences even at an early age. There is no need to force a hated food on a child. Give him some control of what he eats by providing him with options. There are many vegetables to choose from and with a little effort, it is possible to look beyond the habitual vegetables you may serve.
Establish a menu plan with your child – Make a special time every week to talk about food and what you are going to cook and serve in the upcoming week. Make it a fun time to get together. Your child will appreciate the one on one time spent together every week and will understand how important nutrition should be in his life as he gets older. He will have happy associations with food as a caring parent has routinely spent time with him.
Make it a color day – Make every day a different food color day. Pick a color with your child and talk about all the different foods that are that color. You may even choose to paint all the shades within that color family.
Link it to a favorite book or movie – Most children have favorite books or films. Choose one which incorporates family meals into the plot. Try to find the healthy foods mentioned in the book and you may be able to replicate a situation or adventure involving food with your child.
Watch a cooking program together – There are plenty of children’s programs involving food and cooking. Make sure you watch together and keep it simple. Perhaps sliced fruit and different dipping sauces might be a good start. Your child will love working with you and will feel proud of his accomplishment and much more likely to eat what he cooked himself.
Make food into shapes – A child would rather eat a dinosaur shaped chicken nugget than a plain chicken nugget. Go to the kitchen store together and choose some really fun and interesting cutters. Make apple stars, butternut squash buttons and all types of healthy cookies with unusual shapes!
Grow your own vegetables – nothing is more exciting to children that watching vegetables appear out of the ground or container.
Encouraging your child to eat healthy need not be a chore. With a little time and imagination, it is possible not only to get your toddler to eat healthy but to have a fun time with him as well. It will be special time spent together, planning, creating and encouraging a future foodie!
Picky Eater taste testers:
Not one of our taste testers knew there was pumpkin in this recipe. Read the back of the label on a pumpkin can and you will be amazed at the nutrition you are adding to this meal
“Mom’s Little Secret” Pasta Sauce
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 (28 ounce) can chunky crushed tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin (like Libby’s 100% pumpkin)
1 pound ground turkey or lean ground beef
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 yellow onions chopped
4 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
Brown your turkey or ground beef with the onions and garlic. Sprinkle a small amount of the oregano and basil on the meat while browning. This will season the meat. Blend the stewed tomatoes and pumpkin in a blender. Slowly pour in the crushed tomatoes and continue blending until you reach a smooth consistency. Pour tomato mixture into the turkey/ground beef mixture. Stir in remaining spices and 1/2 cup water. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
PS. We used turkey and added the sauce to rigatoni. Feel free to use ground beef instead of the turkey and whatever favorite pasta your kids will eat.
Fooled ‘EM Mac and Cheese
2 cups of cauliflower florets
1 1/2 c. macaroni
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Steam the cauliflower in a vegetable steamer for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Put in a food processor or a blender, adding a bit of water from the steaming pot, and blend to a smooth texture.
Prepare the macaroni according to manufacturer’s directions. Drain.
While the macaroni is boiling, coat a large, nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add the oil and then the flour, whisking constantly, until a thick paste forms. Add the milk a little at a time and whisk until the mixture begins to thicken, 3 to 4 minutes. (Make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom). Add about 1/2 c. of the cauliflower puree, cheese, salt and pepper if desired, and whisk until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Add the macaroni, and mix thoroughly. Serve immediately.
*You may want to light a candle while preparing the cauliflower; we all know how this smells while cooking! We may be able to fool them with the taste, but that smell is a bit hard to disguise! You could also prepare the cauliflower puree ahead of time while they are at school.