Kids tend to fall into one of two categories when it comes to food – they’ll either eat everything or they’ll be picky and refuse to eat anything but certain foods. While being a picky eater isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can start to get unhealthy when they won’t eat anything but mac and cheese, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets.
What can you do to help your picky eaters try new foods, especially healthy ones that they might think of as icky?
Institute the One Bite Rule
Don’t fall into the same trap that our parents did. You know the one we’re talking about – “You don’t get to leave the table until you eat all your vegetables. There are starving children in (insert country name here).” All this does is make your kids dread dinner time, especially if you’re serving stuff that you know they don’t like.
This take it or leave it mentality might work for older kids, but it won’t work for stubborn picky eaters. Instead, institute the one bite rule – they must try one bite of the new food. If they don’t like it, that’s the end of it. The important thing is that they tried it.
According to the experts, it can take between 10 and 15 tries to get a child to actually enjoy a new food – but don’t try it all at once. Make sure you make stuff that you enjoy eating – that way none of the food goes to waste if your kids end up not actually liking it this time.
The one bite rule has worked in our house – this writer’s oldest child used to utterly hate mushrooms, tomatoes, and black olives. He still hates black olives, but tomatoes and mushrooms have been added back to the tasty list.
Cook Them Differently
If you’re trying to get your kids to enjoy any food, especially a vegetable, the trick may be cooking it in different ways. If you’re trying to add squash to your diet, for example, mix it up – roast some squash cubes one week, serve spaghetti squash with pasta sauce the next, and make some baked squash fries the week after that.
That’s the nice thing about vegetables – they’re versatile and you can do just about anything with them. If a vegan can replace a ground beef patty with a portabella mushroom, you can find some recipe for a vegetable that your child will enjoy.
You can also try tying these new foods in with their favorite movies – if your kid won’t eat plain roasted zucchini or eggplant, try baking them into a ratatouille – you can even get Remy’s recipe from the movie! In addition to getting them to try new vegetables, this can be a great way to get your kids interested in helping in the kitchen! Just make sure you’re assigning age-appropriate tasks – no chef’s knives for toddlers now!
Learn to Deconstruct
There’s a reason that kids plates and trays have separate sections for each different food – aside from convenience, some kids just hate having their foods touch. Serving them food like a casserole, where all the food is touching, is a recipe for disaster.
One of the most popular trends in today’s restaurants is the deconstructed dish – taking a recipe that is normally served and breaking it down into its component parts. Even food like sushi, which is normally served in tightly rolled bite-sized pieces, can be deconstructed to keep its individual components separate, making it perfect for picky eaters. We’d suggest starting with cooked shrimp or imitation crab though – let them work up to the actual raw fish.
If you’re worried about whether your kids are getting enough vegetables, it might be time to consider being a bit sneaky. There are plenty of ways that you can hide vegetables in your kid’s favorite food without changing the flavor or consistency. Even some frozen food brands are doing this – butternut squash can be added to mac and cheese and can even be used to give it it’s trademark yellow color without any artificial colors.
Sneak kale into your spaghetti sauce, make noodles out of vegetables like zucchini with a spiralizer or add pureed vegetables to your meatloaf or hamburgers as a binder instead of using eggs.
Don’t be obvious about it – chunks of broccoli in pancakes is enough to make anyone a little green around the gills – but feel free to sneak as many vegetables as you want into your favorite foods.
You can even make desserts with vegetables – avocado makes a great substitute in a lot of recipes, and you can even sneak spinach into your brownies without changing the flavor.
Your kids will likely grow out of their picky eater phase, but in the meantime just be patient, introduce as many new foods as you can, and let them decide what they want to eat – within reason. No one is suggesting that chicken nuggets and chocolate chip cookies are a good alternative to healthy food but if they’re eating, we can afford to let them be a little picky.
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Kacey Bradley is the lifestyle and travel blogger for The Drifter Collective, an eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations and cultures, all while portraying her love for the world around her through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts. Along with writing for her blog, she frequently writes for sites like US Travel News, Thought Catalog, Style Me Pretty, Tripping.com and more!