Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but feel like as soon as my daughter is finished eating, it’s time to make her next meal. Preparing what feels like never-ending nutritious meals and snacks is difficult enough, but when you add in a picky eater, the stress can really pile on for parents. If you’re a parent feeling the pinch, know you are not alone and that there are strategies to help with more opinionated eaters.
Set a good example. Children learn by watching those around them. Family meals that incorporate nutrient-rich foods like dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats are a great place to start. Research even shows that eating together as a family more often is linked with increased self-esteem, a sense of wellbeing, positive social behaviors, and stronger family relationships.
Recruit a new sous-chef. Kids that are more engaged with meal prep may be more willing to try foods. Give kids age-appropriate tasks like washing vegetables or assisting in planning the menu for the week. “Picking the menu” can be as simple as prepping a smoothie base with yogurt and milk in the morning and letting your child pick out the fruit and other extras they want to mix in!
Exposure without pressure. Some kids need to be exposed to a food multiple times before they may be willing to even try it! Take the pressure off eating new foods and encourage play by offering fun “dunking” dips. A yogurt-based ranch recipe to accompany veggies at snack time is a great example.
Avoid offering food as a reward. When we only offer certain foods, like sweets, as a reward for finishing a meal, we are reinforcing the preference for dessert and the idea that desserts have more value than whatever was served at dinner. Desserts and other sweet treats offered in moderation can still fit into a healthy diet alongside a meal. Sweets that also happen to be nutrient-rich, like a frozen yogurt bark, are a great option to consider trying. Spread Greek yogurt onto parchment paper and let them sprinkle on their favorite toppings like peanut butter, fruits, crushed pretzel, and mini chocolate chips. They will love breaking them into bark-sized bites once it sets in the freezer!
These are just a few of the ways you can help with picky eating; talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and know there are registered dietitians who specialize in this area and may be able to provide you with even more support!