Like many children, my kiddos have always been a bit picky when it comes to food. It goes in streaks. They love something one week and the next, they’ll turn their nose up at it. As a parent, I know this can be frustrating. With my son, Dane, I stressed myself out with meal planning. I tried my hardest to ensure he was receiving well-balanced meals throughout the day. When he wouldn’t eat what I put in front of him (or just picked at it and ate only a little), I worried. Was he getting enough nutrition? Was he hungry during the night? Should I have made a different meal just for him?
My family told me, “If kids are hungry enough, they’ll eat what’s in front of them.” Well, Dane must not have been very hungry because he would happily remove himself from the dinner table and return to playing with no requests for additional food before bed. My daughter, Cora, was similar. She would eagerly pass up a meal that didn’t appeal to her in return for an extra glass of milk. Really? How is this possible. I think I would keel over if I missed a meal!
Once I started doing a bit of research, however, I realized that my expectations for what my kids should be eating were way off. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that a toddler needs only 1/4 to 1/2 of that smaller adult serving size. To help put this all into perspective, I went out and invested in some divided toddler plates that wouldn’t allow me to dump an entire cup of peas onto their plates.
Now, that was a great first step, but it still didn’t solve the whole picky eating dilemma. I just knew now that they required much smaller portions.
It was only through trial and error and conversations with daycare teachers and other moms that I finally started figuring things out about the picky eating. Today, I don’t stress out anymore if they turn up their nose to something; the fact that they didn’t eat much for dinner no longer keeps me up at night; and I’ve learned to keep my expectations in check when it comes to kids and food.
Today I’m sharing five ways I’ve found to please my picky eaters, with you. If you’re a bit frustrated with your kids’ reaction to the meals you’re putting in front of them, try the ideas below to see if one or more of them work for you!
- Try switching up the way you serve food.
Let me explain. When Dane was younger (about 3 years old), he wouldn’t eat grapes. I never could figure out why. One day I approached his daycare teacher and asked her about his aversion to grapes. “What? Dane loves grapes,” she said. What now? Are we talking about the same child? Turns out Dane liked to pick the grapes off the stem rather than eating them out of a bowl. Who would have known? Sure enough, the next time I left the grapes on the stem for him, he made a game out of picking them off and popping them into his mouth. The whole point is to have a little fun with how you’re serving up your kids’ food. How about trying a Funny Face Snack Plate like the one Sarah, over at How Wee Learn, created? Or serve the food in bite-sized portions, perfect for little hands.
- Let them try a taste of something new with something familiar that they like.
I think all kids have a short list of go-to foods that they enjoy. When they have the meal in front of them that you know they’ll eat, try putting a small portion of something new on the plate, too. For example, when I’m cooking up a veggie my kids would normally pass up, I’ll put a little on their plates alongside the food they enjoy. I request they try just a bite and then they can resume with their “normally scheduled program,” or in this instance, “meal.”If they try it, it’s a victory. Be happy with that.
- Serve meals family-style.
Believe it or not, this tip works for a lot of families. Instead of you making up your kids’ plates, let them serve themselves. For toddlers, you could always fill a separate divided plate and allow them to transfer what they want to eat from that plate to theirs using their fork and spoon. If it gets a little messy, it’s okay.The whole point is giving them some control over what they eat.
When they feel more in control, they’ll be more agreeable to trying and eating different things.Another bonus about everyone eating together at the table is the kids get to see what everyone else in the family is eating and may just try something new because they see their sister or brother trying it!
Better yet, once a month, allow the kids to invite a friend to dinner. If their friend tries something new, they may, too. It’s amazing to find out what your kids will eat at school lunch versus what they eat at home. At school, kids tend to try more of a variety of foods because all of their friends are doing it! This is a good kind of peer pressure to encourage!
- Let them help with the preparation.
It’s pretty important to let your kids help you in kitchen. Involving them in meal preparation can actually make a big difference in what kids are willing to try in regards to new foods. Even if you’re serving up something they love, like pizza, hold a make-your-own pizza night and put out some toppings the kids wouldn’t normally request. Encourage them to try one or two new toppings on their pizza or to make a fun design using a few different toppings.
- Always plan a meal each week you know the entire family will love.
I normally let the kids take turns choosing the “meal of the week.” Again, it makes them feel like they are more “in control” of what they’re eating. What they choose, the entire family eats.
If you have a picky eater, I hope you’ll try at least one of the tips I shared today. Kids WILL eat when, and if, they’re hungry. Just keep offering them a variety of healthy options, and get a bit creative in how you serve them! Getting your kids to eat shouldn’t be a battle. Make sure your expectations are “in check” and then, just do your best. I’m certain you’ll see improvement!