I teach meal planning classes in Omaha and I hear so many parents who struggle meal planning for children who are picky eaters. They make a delicious homemade meal and the child refuses to eat it. This can be really frustrating when you are budgeting and meal planning and don’t want to cook an extra meal for one kid. Don’t be mad when I tell you this is normal behavior, but you CAN encourage them to eat more variety in their diets.
My youngest child has special needs and he struggled with eating solids and gaining weight early in life. We had Occupational Therapy and Early Intervention Services to help him with eating issues. During this time I learned so much about kids and food, like how to encourage them to try new foods and eat more fruits and vegetables. Today, I want to share some of the tips I learned to help your child become less picky.
1. Rule out a medical condition – First, you need to rule out a medical condition. They may have sensory or swallowing issues that prevent them from enjoying foods.
2. Always offer the food – Have you heard others say, just put the food on their plate, even if they won’t eat it? Well, it’s because it works. I’ve heard that kids need to be exposed to foods almost a dozen times before acquiring a taste for it. That means offer the new food even if they refuse to eat it (or it ends up on the floor.)
3. Let them plan some meals – Give kids control of their diet by letting them pick a few meals for the weekly meal plan.
4. Don’t stress – I was told by the therapists to not stress about my kid not eating. She said kids will eat when they are hungry barring any medical conditions.
5. Limit snacks before meals – If not being hungry at meal time is an issue, limit snacks before meals or have a set time for snacks. If I allow it, my kids will graze and eat everything in sight throughout the day and be completely full by dinner time.
6. Have a routine – Set times for snacks and meals can help the child learn when to eat.
7. Sneak veggies into meals – If your child refuses to eat vegetables, get sneaky. You can blend or puree vegetables into many meals. I often add blended cauliflower into my casseroles or cook tiny pieces of bell pepper into taco meat.
8. Encourage, but don’t punish – Don’t punish a child for not eating. This can create a power struggle with the child and make the issue worse.
9. Be a positive example – If kids see parents eating healthy foods, they will want to eat it too. You’ve probably heard parents complain that their child is just as picky as his dad (or mom.) Be the example for the kids and eat those veggies, even if you have to swallow it down fast.
10. Try a smoothie or shake – If you are still worried about your kid not getting enough nutrition through fruits and veggies, try blending it up. Most kids won’t eat kale, but try blending it up with a few frozen strawberries, bananas and some milk. Then call it a ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Power Shake’ (the kale makes it green) and they might actually drink it.
Always remember, you are a good parent! Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have a picky eater. Kids can be challenging at all stages of life and it’s usually just a phase. Keep offering new foods and doing your best. If all else fails, consider talking to your pediatrician or nutritionist for more tips.
(Side note – The baby picture is my middle son’s first experience eating peas. He hated them and most of it ended up on mom. Fast forward eight years and he loves peas. He likes to pretend they are little alien pods and if doesn’t eat them all, aliens will get him. I say, whatever gets you to eat the peas.)
Please leave a comment and share more tips for parents of picky eaters!