Pleasing Your Picky Eater
By: Shandley McMurray
"Yuck! I'm not eating that!"
There's little more frustrating than trying to feed a picky eater. You know the kind: she turns her nose up at anything green. He refuses to even try your well-prepared meal unless it resembles macaroni and cheese. Whatever your child's food quirk, you're not alone.
According to Lola O'Rourke of the American Dietetic Association, it's perfectly normal for kids to be picky about what they eat. They're either asserting their independence by choosing the foods they like or simply teaching us about their unique hunger schedules. Here are nine tips to help you get your child eating.
Getting Kids to Try New Foods
- Don't force them."Kids really should be in control of how much they eat," says O'Rourke. Their hunger comes in ebbs and flows and forcing them to finish something when they're full teaches them to override their own hunger mechanism. You don't want to encourage them to think it's okay to eat more than they need or want to.
- Hide the veggies. One of the easiest ways to get kids to accept a new food is to put a mask on it. Chop mushrooms, grate zucchini or add a few minced onions to their favorite spaghetti sauce.
- Try, try again. It's rare for kids to like a food right off the bat, especially if it's a member of the vegetable family. "It usually takes 10 to 15 exposures to a food for a child to actually eat it and accept it," says O'Rourke. The best way to get your child to eat something new is to keep trying. The more they see the food, the more familiar it will become and the more likely they'll be to try it. Consider spacing out the exposures by a week or more so they don't feel like they're being bombarded.
Add new to the old. Always offer new foods with familiar and well-liked choices. That way children know they aren't being forced to eat something they're unsure of and may be more tempted to give it a try.
- Be a good role model. As a parent, your children watch and mimic what you do (and eat), so make healthy food choices and finish your veggies in front of your kids. After all, how can you expect your child to try broccoli if you won't eat it yourself?
- Get kids cooking. Not only is cooking a fun way to keep kids entertained, it also encourages them to try new things. Have kids wash vegetables, for example, stir the ingredients or add cheese on top of your casserole. "The more invested they are in the whole project, the more likely they are going to want to consume the outcome," says O'Rourke. Check out cooking-with-kids breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes for great ideas and delicious meals.
- Visit a farm. Introducing kids to a farm or farmer's market will help them understand how fresh produce is grown, picked and eventually sold. "It isn't possible everywhere," says O'Rourke, "but whenever it is, it's a great way to get kids involved." Allow kids to choose which foods they'd like to buy. They're sure to leave with a new appreciation for their meals and more interest in eating. No farm nearby? Head to the grocery store and introduce kids to all the different types of fish, breads or produce, remember to explain where they come from.
- Make food fun. What kid wouldn't rather eat dinosaur-shaped chicken fingers than the plain old stick kind? The better food looks, the more likely it is to be eaten. Try making a face out of your tuna salad (green pepper strips for hair, cherry tomatoes for eyes) or use cookie cutters for a more interesting-looking lasagna. "Younger kids really like to dip food into things," says O'Rourke, so consider teaming foods with dressings, salsas or dips. To help you get creative, try these five fun cooking-with-kids recipes: Crazy Cupcake Creations, Tortilla Sushi Wraps, Chocolate Chip Cookie Pizza, Wonderful Whole Wheat Pancake Art and Hedgehog Buns.
- Watch drinks and snacks. "Make sure kids aren't eating too soon before a meal," advises O'Rourke, "or else they're not going to be hungry." She suggests keeping snacks small and serving them at least 1-1/2 hours before mealtime. Toddlers are particularly prone to filling up on too much milk or juice, so watch that their intake doesn't exceed their daily requirements. At the same time, kids need to stay well hydrated so you may want to talk with your doctor to confirm recommended daily fluid intake.
Here are some kid-pleasing recipes that Mom will enjoy making and serving!
- Banana Pecan Pancakes
- Good-For-You Granola
- Vanilla Yogurt Fruit Dip
- Frozen Banana Smoothie
- Cinnamon Raisin Soft Pretzels
- Italian Turkey Wrap
- California Veggie Wrap
- Broiled Mozzarella and Tomato Bruschetta
- Chick Pea and Tomato Soup with Pasta
- Baked Tomato, Macaroni and Cheese Casserole
- Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Stir-Fry
- Lemon Chicken with Couscous
- Pasta with Turkey Meatballs