Do you have a picky eater at home who needs some encouragement to try new foods? It can be frustrating when your child self-limits their list of acceptable foods. Not only does picky eating make dinnertime difficult, but it also limits the nutrients a child is getting.
Take heart - most kiddos come around to expanding their list of acceptable foods. The magic is in the consistency of offering a variety of foods in a variety of ways. While that can seem daunting, we have some tips to help you expand exposure and get in more nutrition.
- Introduce a variety of new foods from a young age. Try different types of baby food, starting with veggies. Store-bought baby food or homemade pureed veggies will work. Try peas, green beans, potatoes, summer and winter squash, and beans.
- Introduce one new food at a time so they are not overwhelmed and to help determine allergies. Add the new food to the plate of already familiar foods so they have other choices to include in the meal.
- Exposure. Exposure. Exposure.
- We often refer to veggies and meat because those tend to be the most "offensive" foods to picky eaters. Though, it could be any food group your child is struggling with.
- Cut the food into tiny pieces so a "try it" bite is not too big.
- Offer the food with different dipping sauces.
- Use different cooking methods for the food. For example, with veggies, offer it steamed, roasted, raw, grilled, or blanched to present all the different ways to eat it.
- Add vegetables into foods they already like:
- Puree into pizza/marinara sauce
- Puree butternut squash into macaroni and cheese
- Puree cauliflower into alfredo
- Add spinach or kale to pesto
- Bake vegetables into baked goods ex: zucchini bread, carrot cake, or superhero muffins
- Add fruits or vegetables into smoothies
- Finely chop vegetables and add under the cheese on pizza or in a meat sauce/bolognese
- Incorporate your children (picky eater included) into meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prepping. When they are a part of the process, they may be more likely to try what they made or helped with. That might not happen the first couple of times - but don't give up! Keep them as much a part of the process as they can be according to their age and ability. Being comfortable around food and where it comes from can take some of the hesitation away.
- Make the food colorful and appealing to the eye. Form the food into fun shapes or designs such as a smiley face or butterfly. Let the kids help with "plate presentation."
- Stay calm. As best as you can, refrain from making the dinner table a battleground. Set up expectations and rules ahead of time - post them if you think that will help - and stick with it. Consistency is key along with a long-term view.
Dealing with picky eaters can feel like an uphill battle. We encourage you to keep going. You know your child best and know how they are motivated so use that to your advantage. Find the little wins and keep moving forward. Helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food is such a gift!
*Written by Tiffany Ricci & Alexis Kiefer, an FLN Intern