Nobody likes a picky eater. With a picky eater in the family, meal planning can feel downright impossible and can make even the most committed parents to healthy cooking want to just give up. A lot of our clients at Thrive Nutrition are parents, so when we work with them, we are also indirectly working with their families. To help our clients transition to healthier eating as a family unit, we have plenty of tips to encourage the most stubborn little eaters to trying new foods!
Check them out:
- We are Programed to Prefer Sweet: At the end of the day, we are all genetically designed to prefer sweet foods. Even breastmilk is sweet. Excess sweet foods are quick sources of energy and can be easily stored as body fat (to presumably be used at a later time during famine). If your kiddo is having a hard time embracing sour or bitter foods, don’t take it personally!
- Be Persistent with Exposure: The trouble with getting kids to try new foods is that most parents just aren’t persistent enough. According to a 2004 study, more than 90% of caregivers offered kids food they did not like only three to five times before giving up. A 2007 study suggests that sticking it out just a little longer can yield results. They conclude that toddlers can be made to like a new food by introducing it 5-10 times. Kids aged 3-4 may need to try it 15 times before developing a taste for it.
- Encourage Food Interaction that Feels Safe: Who doesn’t have memories of sitting all alone at the dinner table because you needed to eat 3 Brussels Sprouts before you can leave? In my case, it was fish - the same day I watched my dad “clean” an alive fish I was supposed to eat it for dinner. Did I sit at the dinner table for a long time that night and multiple other nights we had fish for dinner? Yup! Do I eat fish as an adult today? Nope! I have discovered with my clients that a lot of food aversions stem from childhood. So how can we get our kids to try new foods without forcing them to try it? One method researchers suggest is called “tiny tastes." Start with just having the food on their plate without making them eat it. Then progress to having them smell it. Next the child is asked to eat a pea-sized morsel of a new food. Even licking counts. Do this again and again. Realize that there will just be some foods out there your kid just won’t like and that’s okay!
- Keep your Cool: Don't make a huge deal when your child wants to try or doesn’t want to try something -- the more casual you are about it (offer him a piece, but don't watch him eat it for instance), the more likely it is that he'll actually follow through. The dinner atmosphere is also important. Parents need to be warm and engaged, rather than controlling and restrictive, to encourage healthy eating in their children
- Try New Foods Together: We love to get our client families to try new foods together, to make it an adventure! One way we do that is to challenge our clients to find one fruit or vegetable per month with their kids that neither has tried before. Farmer’s markets are great for this because they offer lots of variety not always found at typical grocery stores! This could mean trying avocado, mango, kumquats, garlic scapes, celery root, artichoke, fennel, etc etc! Bonus: If your kid is old enough, find a recipe together that you want try with the new food!
- Get them involved with grocery shopping and food preparation: Kids nowadays aren’t very involved in the cooking process. We as nutritionists feel that cooking is a dying art as less and less of our clients seem comfortable in the kitchen. One way to get more comfortable is to get back into the kitchen! Let go of perfectionism and thinking that in order for recipes to taste good you need specialty ingredients and you need to spend all day cooking. Find simple recipes with 5-8 ingredients and get your kids in the kitchen with you! Whether they’re teens or tots, kids of any age can start to build their culinary skills. Check out this handy guide to help identify tasks that suit the skills-and attention spans-of tots, and challenge and engage older kids.
- Try Different Preparations: Just because your kid doesn’t like boiled Brussels Sprouts (EWW, who does?!), doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like roasted Brussels Sprouts in bacon fat with a drizzle of real maple syrup! The lesson: Don’t nix an entire food if it was only prepared one way! Try presenting roasted, grilled, juiced, blended, steamed or raw options!
- Offer Choices: Who says you can only have one vegetable at dinner? Offer two or three vegetable choices with meals. Serve roasted cabbage and carrots along with an avocado, cucumber + tomato salad. Try a kale salad with veggies kabobs. The possibilities are endless!
- Scale Back on Snacks + Drinks: Kids who resist new foods may eat snack foods or drink (other than water) all day long, which limits their hunger for foods at meals. Kids are more receptive to trying something new because they're truly hungry.
- Serve “Build it Yourself” Meals: What can be more fun than creating your own dining experience? Provide a base for your family and then offer different toppings for each person to put on their plate! For example, offer a Mexican brothy soup with protein and then have toppings to choose from like: sour cream, limes, avocados, shredded cabbage, cilantro, and crumbled cheese. Pasta as you like it: offer lentil pasta and with the choices to put on: steamed broccoli, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella sliced, grilled chicken, parmesan, pesto, olives, grilled vegetables and tomato sauce.
- Incorporate Play: At some point during dinner, exclaimed “broccoli moment!” Everyone grabs a piece of broccoli, holds it up, counts 1, 2, 3 and everyone together munches down. Not sure why, but for the little ones it works like a charm! (This moment can be dedicated to any vegetable you are serving!)
- Hide Vegetables: If all else fails, hide vegetables in your meals! Blend spinach or peppers into spaghetti sauce, toss a chunk of cucumber in a smoothie, put some cauliflower in mac and cheese, throw some shredded carrots into burgers. Look here for more ideas.