5. Crowd out unhealthy food by making healthy options available.
- Generally speaking, we eat what is available, what we can see, and what we are used to eating. If you purchase healthy, colorful, real food and place it where your kids can see and reach it, they are much more likely to try it. And once these nutritious options become the norm at home, kids won’t be as cautious about eating it.
- Approach eating with an 80%/20% attitude. Set a family goal of eating and offering healthy food 80 percent of the time while allowing 20 percent room for foods that are less nutritious (or, let’s face it, not at all). Research shows that if we restrict certain foods, we are much more likely to want it, and that can set kids up for a lifetime of struggle with eating. If you want to establish a healthy relationship with food, then restriction (unless medically necessary) is not the right tactic.
6. Model the behaviors you would like your child to emulate. This cannot be said enough, as we all know that preaching to our kids is an exercise in futility if our words are not backed up by solid AND genuine actions.
- Serve food with appropriate utensils and napkins, and show them how you would expect them to eat at a restaurant.
- If you want your child to sample new foods, eat them yourself. Enough said.
- If you happen to not approve of a food, say “I don’t prefer… (insert—how it tastes, the texture, the smell, the sauce on it, etc.). Refrain from making faces or gagging noises (trust me, I have seen all this), and politely express your opinion and move on. Or laugh. But whatever you do, don’t immediately exclaim that it is “disgusting!”
- Relate flexibility and adventure in eating to other activities, such as travel, sports, and school subjects. Talk about how sometimes we don’t know we like something until we have given it a solid try, and that many times we have to give things repeated chances before they become something we enjoy.
7. Serve new/healthy food when your child is very hungry. Based on my experience, when I offer my daughters vegetables, fruit, and other healthy options when they come home from school, when they need a little something to hold them over until the next meal, or as an appetizer, they are much more likely to eat it up. True story.
- Make it appealing, as mentioned above.
- Put it on the table, and instead of hovering over them, allow them to pick and choose on their own.
- Offer dips and sauces to attract their attention.
8. Get creative by mixing new or healthy foods in things you know your child will eat. Smoothies, soups, meatballs, breakfast breads, and even desserts (have you heard about avocado or beets in brownies?) are a great way to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and new ingredients.
9. The most important tip I can offer you is to be patient and persistent. Susan B. Roberts, a Tufts University nutritionist and co-author of the book “Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health,” suggests offering food at least 15 times to give your child a chance to accept it. Additionally, she recommends you use “food bridges” once you find foods that your kid likes. You should do so by finding foods with similar color, flavor, or texture to expand the variety of foods your kiddo will eat. For example, if your child enjoys pumpkin pie, offer him mashed sweet potatoes and then mashed carrots.If texture is an issue, offer the food you would like them to try in a texture they can tolerate, and slowly work your way up.
Note: prior to declaring your kid a “picky eater,” rule out any medical or physical reasons for your child’s cautious approach towards food.