My two-year-old did not eat dinner last night. She wouldn’t try the chicken. She refused to taste the carrots. For some reason she kept demanding rice, but my in-laws were serving mashed potatoes and she would not allow those spuds to even touch her little plate. Of course she wanted the key lime pie for dessert—but, cruel mother that she has, she was denied the pleasure. (She was re-offered chicken, carrots and potatoes, but didn’t take the bait.)
The “picky eater” stage has apparently settled in at our house. Where do I go from here?
Whether your picky eater is 2 or 12, there are fun, creative ways to get your kiddos to try new foods and broaden their view of what’s allowed on their plates:
- Preparation is Key: Try preparing foods in different ways. Apparently my little one won’t eat cooked carrots, but she might be willing to try thinly sliced raw carrots if I offer them with one of her favorite dips, roasted red pepper hummus. You can try veggies steamed, raw, cooked, topped with cheese sauce, or alongside a dip – one of these just might appeal to your child and get him or her to try a new food.
- Be a Good Example: Kids are more likely to eat something that you eat as well. One day I was enjoying a salad when my picky eater wanted to try a slice of red bell pepper. To my surprise, she loved it. I spent the rest of my meal picking out peppers and happily handing them over.
- Consider Presentation: Something as simple as changing plates, bowls, or utensils may make the difference to younger kids. Maybe your child doesn’t like his fork, and his spoon would work better. Maybe your child sees your fork and would rather use an adult version. A special plate or paper plate might make the difference to a little one as well.
- Think Big Picture: It’s typical for kids to eat less at one meal and make up for it the next. Or one day your child might eat only fruit, the next day only grains. Try to keep the bigger picture in mind—if your family eats a variety of nutritious food over the course of a week, that’s key. It may take many tries (up to ten or more) before a child decides that he or she likes a food, so keep offering foods that your children have previously rejected.
- Have a Helper: If your picky eater is older, you can have him or her help prepare the meal. Depending on their age, kids can help measure ingredients, wash vegetables, stir, mix, or chop. Kids are more likely to try something if they’ve helped make it. If you have adequate yard space or a couple of big planters, growing produce with your kids is another great strategy to get them to try new foods. Maybe they don’t like squash. Once they’ve planted it and watched it grow, squash might become more appealing—at least enough to take a taste.
- Use Disguises: If all else fails, I give you permission to be sneaky. Add shredded vegetables to pasta sauce, meat loaf, or pancakes. You can puree vegetables and hide them in brownies, muffins, or sweet breads.
I also think that it’s important to take a deep breath and relax. Make mealtimes calm and enjoyable. Don’t get into power struggles over food—just continue to offer a variety of nutritious foods and have fun. Enjoy mealtimes and emphasize not only good nutrition but also good conversation and quality family time together.