Listen up. If your kids aren’t picky eaters, consider yourself blessed. (And if you don’t have kids yet, be careful claiming that you never will.) But if you DO have picky eaters in your home, let me be the first to say: you. are. not. alone. I have been there, and I know how frustrating and gut-wrenching it can be to watch your kids refuse certain foods. You worry about what they’ll eat when they’re not at home, are they getting the nutrients their bodies need, and if they’ll ever outgrow it. I know, because I was there. Below are my top 7 tips for overcoming all of those struggles. Read on, my friend. I’ve got you covered.
Why we worry about our Picky Eaters
The truth of the matter is, what we eat is super important. Our bodies use the nutrients from the food we eat to build new cells, tissues, and organs. So we quite literally are what we eat. And food is way more than just calories – it is INFORMATION for our cells. It tells our bodies which hormones need to get into action. We are a beautiful machine, and food is our fuel. Not that there isn’t room for fun in our diets, but it’s definitely something that needs to be balanced. Unfortunately, the decks are stacked against us (and our kids).
The food industry engineers its products to be addictive
Processed food is created to have just the right balance of sugar, salt, and fat to get our brains to want to eat more and more
The more sugar we consume, the more we want
Once our brains get a “taste” for sugar, it requires more and more to achieve the same feeling. There is no biological need for processed sugar. Avoid or limit it as much and long as you can.
There is processed food everywhere
If you want to avoid processed food, you need to plan ahead. Birthday parties, school lunches, restaurant meals – these are all places where you don’t have much control over what your child is eating. We don’t need to eat a perfect diet for every meal, which is why what we do at home is more important than ever.
So, how do you know what to do to help your picky eaters at home? Below are my top 7 tips.
7 Tips for Your Picky Eaters
(1) Start Early
If I could go back in time, I would change how I fed my kids when they started on solid foods. I was so concerned with introducing one new food at a time (to determine if there was a food sensitivity) that it kept me from sharing the meals we were eating. My babies were also very early risers, and so to make sure they got the sleep they needed, they had a pretty early bedtime. It was a nice routine to feed the kids, put them to bed, and then make a nice dinner for my husband and me. But that routine also kept them from eating the food we ate, and it was just easier to feed them “kid foods.” I don’t like to look back on my life and say, “I wish I had…” but this is one situation that I would have done differently.
(2) Serve a fruit and veggie platter while you’re still cooking (or as an appetizer if you made your meal ahead of time)
The best time to serve a new food or flavor is when your kids are hungry. I keep this platter out during mealtime, so if they don’t love the main course or anything else on their plate, I know they have some nutritious food with which they can fill up. I make sure there are some of their favorite fruits, veggies, and nuts on this platter.
(3) Let them shop, choose, and help prepare your meals
The more invested your kids are in what they eat, the more likely they are to try it. Get out your cookbooks, visit some blogs, and surf Pinterest together, and let them pick some meals that look and sound good to them. Have they help you prepare your shopping list. While at the grocery store, let them pick a new piece of produce to try. Let them research how to prepare it when you get home and cook it together.
(4) Turn your meals into buffet style, and let your picky eaters choose what they want to eat (caveat: they have to have at least one vegetable or new flavor at each meal)
Have autonomy over our lives is super important, and that goes for our kids, too. Give them a couple of choices and let them decide. For example: if I’m roasting broccoli, I will also throw some cauliflower and brussels sprouts on the cookie sheet and cook them all together. They all cook in about the same amount of time (or I’ll time it for them to be done cooking at the same time). When it comes time to fill our plates, I’ll have my kids choose one or two of these veggies, but I won’t force them to eat all three; this makes them feel better and more in control of their life at the dinner table.
(5) Discuss the importance of repeated exposures
Early on, I told my kids that it takes their tongue about eight exposures to a new flavor to decide that they really like it (this is true!). I also gave them the example that I used to think avocados were gross (oh, the blasphemy!), but now they see me eating them regularly. It helped that they each had a similar learning experience to like a previously not-tolerated food. We’ve turned this into a game at the dinner table. When I’m serving food that they think they don’t like, I ask them, “But what if today is the day your taste buds have changed???” I then encourage them to take 1-3 bites so that their taste buds can get used to this new flavor or texture. Beyond that, I don’t force anything. They can always go back to the plate of raw veggies (see #2).
(6) Experiment with different cooking methods (or not cooking at all)
It’s incredible how differently certain foods can taste based on how they are prepared. My kids can’t get enough steamed broccoli, but they don’t eat nearly as much if I serve it roasted. If you really want to make it fun, turn it into a cooking competition. Take one vegetable and cook it a few different ways (raw, steamed, sauteed, roasted, cooked into a soup, pureed, etc.), then have them try each option, and they get to vote on their favorite preparation method.
(7) Biohack your way to new cravings
We have more control over what we crave than we think. Like I mentioned in #1, if you feed your kids lots of flavors when they’re young, their bodies adapt to eating those foods. But if you didn’t do that with your babies, all is not lost! The food we put into our guts is the food we end up craving. Eat a lot of junk food, crave a lot of junk food. Eat fruits and veggies, crave fruits and veggies. It’s a cycle one way or another. One of my favorite hacks for every family member is to get a lot of phytonutrients (the micronutrients we get from plants) into our bodies with these powerful capsules and chewables. They’re filled with dehydrated, raw fruits and veggies and have been shown to change cravings. Best mom hack I ever discovered!!!
**Bonus tip for parents of picky eaters**
Lastly, don’t stress too much. As long as you’re trying and doing your best to introduce new foods and flavors, your kids will follow suit eventually. The more stressful you make mealtime, the less success you’ll have. Make it fun, flavorful, and family-focused, and in time, watch your kids flourish!