If you have cooked for children than you’ve probably been there – your children don’t want to eat what you’ve fixed for them. Kids can be very opinionated about what they eat, and their likes/dislikes can change almost daily.
Partly, they may be reacting to foods that are new and/or different. Sometimes it is the color or smell of a certain food that they don’t like, and not the taste. About a month ago, our 2 year old grandson suddenly decided that he wanted only orange foods (if it was served on an orange plate, all the better). Sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason to their choices. Our 5 year old granddaughter has now decided that she doesn’t want any of the different foods on her plate touching each other. If they do, then she won’t eat them. And no amount of logic will convince her!
These power struggles (and that’s really what they are) can unintentionally teach children that food has an unnatural importance in their life. Instead of a meal simply being about consuming healthy, nutritious food, it can be an opportunity to assert authority and resist parental directives. If taken to extremes, this can create an unhealthy relationship with food that may follow the child into adulthood.
The good news is that, in most cases, picky eating habits can easily be overcome. In some cases children just outgrow them. In other cases, as the adult you may have to take other actions.
Here are 5 tips for getting picky eaters to overcome their habits and eat healthy:
#1: Adjust your own mindset. It is essential that you let go of the idea that you can force or demand that your child eat any particular food. This doesn’t mean that you should give up – far from it. It just means that you should acknowledge that logic and demands simply don’t work with children. Instead, work to create an environment where eating a variety of healthy foods, and trying new foods, is normal and rewarded. One recent study found that children may have to be exposed to a new food 7-10 times before they were willing to try it. When a child sees others enjoying a particular food, they are much more likely to try it themselves.
#2: Clean out your pantry. Get rid of junk food, soda, potato chips, candy bars, etc. If you don’t have these foods in the house, then kids won’t be able to eat them instead of healthy foods. Stock your refrigerator with fruits and vegetables as alternatives and offer these when your kids say they are hungry. Most children, if they’re really hungry, will eat almost anything you offer them. So offer them healthy snacks.
#3: Prepare one meal. You, as the adult, should decide what the family meal will include and then prepare it. Don’t prepare a different meal for each person. Of course, it helps if the foods you prepare provide an opportunity for “customizing.” A taco bar or a salad with tomatoes, avocado, and other “add-ins” on the side will give your kids the chance to pick and choose what they eat.
#4: Don’t resist your child’s refusal to eat. This can be a tough one for some parents, but it’s essential. If you child doesn’t want to eat the meal you’ve prepared, then don’t fight with them. Simply tell them, “This is the meal I’ve (we’ve) prepared and you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to. You can shoose to leave the table hungry, or eat the food we have prepared and leave the table full.” Then (here’s where it gets hard), ignore any additional complaining. Talk to others at the table, but not to the child who continues to complain. Once they begin to talk without complaining or they begin eating, engage them and talk to them freely.
#5: Try different cooking methods. Many children go through periods where they really don’t like certain tastes, smells and/or textures. It may not be the actual food that they don’t like, but the way it’s prepared. For example, broccoli can be somewhat bitter when it’s steamed, but broiling it or baking it in a casserole can make it taste much sweeter. Raw carrots are crunchy while cooked carrots can be softer and easier to chew. The taste of many foods can be changed by adding different seasonings too. The key is to not give up. When a child says they don’t like something, think of other ways to prepare it.
As long as healthy eating is a part of your family’s normal activity, and you serve meals with a variety of healthy foods, your children will likely develop healthy eating habits. It may take time, and there may be periods where you wonder what “normal eating” means. But, using the tips in this article can help your children develop a healthy relationship with food that will last a lifetime.
To learn more about how to get your kids to eat healthy, check out our FREE ebook, Do You Wish Your Kid’s Ate Better?
Remember, healthy choices each day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?
You may also want to read: Healthy Fast Food at Home, Gluten Free is Not Necessarily Healthy, Eating Healthy: Keep it Simple