Meal time used to be my favorite part of the day. I’m the type of person that dreams about what I’m going to have for breakfast as I drift to sleep. Then, I married a picky eater. And then, I had a picky eater son. Something I once enjoyed now fills me with stress and frustration. Will anyone eat the meal I cooked? Will the meal end in tears? Will I send him to bed hungry again? Getting picky eaters to venture out and try new things can be exhausting. Here are some tips that have helped at our house…
Make food fun!
Cut food into shapes with cookie cutters, use a cool plate, makeup words for food, or even make it into a game. Food art is one of my favorite ways to get my son to eat. I don’t know about your kids, but mine think eating blueberry “tires” off of their apple car is pretty cool! We also have renamed a lot of foods based on what my son thinks they look like. Spaghetti is now snakes, chia seeds are sprinkles, and broccoli are trees. It makes food a little less intimidating when it’s a word they know.
Never underestimate the power of a dip.
Kids like to play with their food and the act of dipping can make it so much more fun! We love to put out a variety of foods and dips and mix and match to see what combos work and what tastes yucky. Our favorite dips are ketchup (duh), peanut butter, ranch, and yogurt. It lets them explore new foods with dips that are more familiar to them. Need to make a food more dip friendly? Put it on a stick! Paper straws make great lollipop sticks for meatballs.
Don’t force food.
It can be SO frustrating when your kids (or husband) throw a fit and refuse to eat but the best thing you can do is not make a big deal about it. There are some foods you just plain don’t like, right? Well, the same is true for our kids! We forget that they may truly not like something and I don’t know about you but being force fed tuna would make me scream and cry too! We don’t require everything to be eaten or even tried at meal time and we don’t reward eating. We instead just put the food on the table and encourage our oldest to try it. If he doesn’t touch it, we don’t pressure him to try it. We will just try it again another time (and another, and another, and another – you get the point). If he does happen taste it, I like to ask what it tasted like. He loves explaining the flavors!
Have the kids help in the kitchen!
Getting your kids into the kitchen can make meal time more enjoyable for everyone. They can see what goes into what you are making and even sample it along the way. Feeling like they were a part of it makes it a little more exciting. Give them options to pick from, they will feel like they are making a decision even though you are picking the items. If they want to try something, let them! And if they ask to try something you think they won’t like, let them try it anyways! My son has amazed me at what he ends up liking that I think there is no way he will like it.
Stick to your rules and don’t budge.
Don’t become a short order cook making whatever they decide they want. There have been nights that we’ve sent our oldest to bed without a full meal. It’s hard and it can make you feel like the worst parent in the world. There are times I want to give up and let him eat whatever he wants. But you must stick to it for it to help them open up their palettes and their minds. If my son asks for something else, I kindly remind him that the only food we have for this meal is what is on his plate. If he says he doesn’t want it, I tell him that’s fine but there won’t be any other snacks to eat until the next meal. Sometimes he will eat the entire plate, sometimes he will hold his stubborn ground until the next meal.
Lastly, try not to call your children picky eaters in front of them.
The more your kids hear you identify them with this title, the more they will begin to really own it. The words we use to describe our kids can really have an effect on them. Tell them they are a picky eater and you better believe they will live up to those terms.
So relax, put those plates on the table, and let’s start to enjoy meal time again!