Fact of life: Kids can be picky. But this shouldn’t deter you from making healthy diet changes for your family! Here are a few tips for dealing with your picky eaters:
- Involve your children. This is the single most important and effective thing that you can do. When you involve them in the process, it gives them some control (which kids love) and also makes things fun! At the grocery store, let your kids pick out fruits and vegetables. Brainstorm meals together (pasta, tacos, pancakes, etc). And if possible, give them a role in the cooking process as well. The more children are involved, the more invested they will be in the food, and the more likely they will be to eat it!
- Make changes over time. If you have younger children, you may be able to make big changes relatively quickly. With older children, however, it is probably better to change things over time. Be patient—your children may be resistant at first. But if you slowly switch things out over time, it may make the process easier on them. Swap whole wheat breads and pastas for white pastas, do one meatless dinner per week (then two, then three, etc), add one new vegetable or fruit at a time. This will give your children a chance to have a transition period and adjust more easily.
- Give them a choice. As we mentioned above, kids like having control. So before lunch, give them choices to pick between. You don’t have to go crazy—just two or three will work. And make it two or three things that you actually want them to eat. A PBJ or a Hummus sandwich? Just being able to choose what they eat gives them a sense of power.
- Pair the new with the old. When introducing new foods, build the meal around things that your children already like. If they like hummus, put some thinly sliced cucumber on their next hummus sandwich. If they like tomato soup, blend some greens with it. Or if they like salsa, throw in some black beans. You get the idea. But over time, they will become more familiar with the new foods and become more open to eating them.
- Less can be more. It’s okay if your children only like a few healthy foods. Adults often enjoy a wide variety of different foods, but children tend to be more selective with what they will eat. Don’t get hung up on making sure your children are eating a wide range of foods, find a few healthy foods that they do like and go with it! (It may be monotonous for you to set out carrot sticks at snack time everyday and cook broccoli every night, but who cares! Your child is eating carrots and broccoli every day!!) Still introduce new foods from time to time, but don’t worry too much if your children are eating a lot of the same foods—as long as they are wholesome and health-promoting (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes). It is better for your child to eat a smaller variety of healthy options than to increase variety by including unhealthy options.
Bonus Tip: Here is a fun activity for getting your children to try new foods! Make a “Muffin Tin Meal”: Find a muffin tin and place a different food in each individual muffin spot. Encourage your child to at least try a bite from each spot. (Use positive instead of negative words. For example, say “After you try it, you can have some more or wait until another time” instead of “At least try it before deciding that you don’t like it.”) You can put stickers at the bottom of each spot to make things more fun. And if you want, you can turn the activity into a fun game, with prizes (non-food-related) for trying new foods!
Jenna Gigliotti, Craig Tuller, and Tara Kemp wrote the following article when they were interns for Engine 2 Diet last spring.
Jenna Gigliotti is currently enrolled in the Physician Assistant program at Duquesne University, Craig Tuller is currently a medical student at Jefferson University, and Tara Kemp is Administrative Assistant to Dr. Barnard at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.