What do you get when you mix a picky eater with a food he or she strongly resists – and then toss in a dash of frustration from an exasperated parent? A recipe for mealtime disaster! Many parents know all too well the struggles that can occur at mealtimes due to picky eating habits. Some children oppose certain foods because they are sensitive to tastes and textures, while others refuse certain dishes as a way of seeking power. Whatever the reason, it’s never wise to force a child to eat, yet it’s important to ensure she is getting the nutrition she needs to grow and thrive.
So how can parents strike the right balance when it comes to feeding a picky eater? Rather than getting into a power struggle (which is never a good idea), focus on creative tactics to entice, invite and encourage healthy eating in ways that are fun and tasty.
Here are some tips for getting picky eaters to try new foods:
- Set a healthy example. Let your child consistently witness you and other family members preparing and eating a variety of colorful vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains. Try not to keep packaged and processed foods in the house, and avoid eating at fast food chains. Take your child with you to the grocery store and talk with him about healthy, whole foods in the produce aisle.
- Prepare food together. Even if she chooses not to eat it, invite your picky eater to help you in the kitchen. Let her watch you chop veggies and allow her to scoop the pieces into a salad bowl and toss the salad. Praise her for her contribution to the family’s meal. Start involving her in the kitchen early on so she learns how meals are prepared.
- Sneak in vegetables. You can puree all kinds of veggies using a high-quality food blender or processor. Sneak the puree into marinara sauce and serve it over quinoa or macaroni. You might even try slipping some pureed spinach into a brownie or cake mix!
- Try smoothies. To create a healthy and yummy drink for your little one, blend fruits thoroughly in a high-powered blender and mix in a bit of vanilla whey protein powder and ice water. If your child prefers a creamier texture, mix in some vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt or some coconut milk. Be sure to let your child see you and other family members drinking healthy smoothies as well.
- Keep healthy options on hand and in sight. Bowls of fresh fruit and bags of walnuts and almonds on the kitchen counter are a visual reminder that whole foods are the basis for your family’s snacking. Stock the fridge and pantry with healthy items within reach of your child so he has the power to choose. This will encourage healthy eating.
Remember, when it comes to influencing your child’s eating behaviors, set a positive example (consistently), teach your child about healthy eating, and refrain from forcing your child to eat. These habits will help your child have a healthy relationship with food and understand the importance of good nutrition.