These tips are guaranteed to get buy-in from your little ones, help ease the trials and tribulations of dinner time, and make trying new things fun for your kids.
By: Andrea Ulrich, MS, RD, CSR
We’ve all heard stories of kids who subsisted for years on a diet of plain spaghetti and chicken nuggets, or perhaps cereal– Just. Cereal. Oh wait, maybe those were our own kids…Theories abound for why toddlers and young children grow into picky eaters, and many of those theories tend to blame the parents themselves. Well we refuse to point the finger! Instead we have a few tried and true tips for convincing even the strongest of willful eaters to try something new and like it!
- It’s all in the prep. Young kids often prefer crisp textures and light seasoning. Try steaming or stir-frying vegetables until tender and season lightly. Offer older children raw carrots and cucumber with low-fat ranch dressing or celery with peanut butter. Caution: raw carrots can be a choking hazard for young children.
PRO TIP: Keep foods separate. Your child may enjoy eating broccoli and rice individually, but not a broccoli and rice casserole.
- Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. Children often refuse to try new foods, initially. It can take as many as nine separate exposures for a child to try something, so don’t give up. Repeated exposure to foods will increase their acceptance.
- Challenge Them to a Taste Test. Get kids to try new foods with a low-key and fun approach: taste tests! Cook broccoli several different ways to see which is judged to be “the best.” Do we like broccoli better steamed, baked, or sautéed? Of course to keep the kids interested you’ll have to taste test some fun foods from time to time – bake a batch of biscuits and see which jam gets the most likes!
- Give Them the Power to Choose. Allow your child some autonomy when selecting foods. Let them be involved in the grocery shopping and meal planning. Make it a fun experience by allowing them to pick out one fruit, one vegetable, and one dessert, for example. Or get their input when planning your meals for the week. As you discuss meal options with them, you can also help guide them toward healthier options and teach them about balancing meals.
PRO TIP: For younger kids: Use an ice cube tray to make a snack tray. You can use the opportunity to guide children toward healthier snack choices in the process. For older kids: Let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable for dinner when grocery shopping and help to prepare the food using a new recipe. When children have ownership in the meal planning and food prep, they are more likely to try (and support) the foods.
- Be a role model. If you have ever heard your child repeat the word that you screamed after stubbing your toe, then you know that children love to mimic their parents. So set a shining example by eating (and enjoying!) the foods that you want your child to eat.
About the Author
Andrea Ulrich serves as the Nutrition Faculty and Department Chair at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, CO, the largest institution of higher education in the Pikes Peak region. She is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and a Board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition. In addition, she is a Member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Andrea earned a Master of Science from Texas Woman’s University, Houston, TX. She and her husband have two children and reside in Colorado Springs, CO.