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Meal Tips for Picky Eaters: 14 Ways to Get Your Child to Eat Their Food

A lot of parents have the same problem: their children are picky eaters. This can be frustrating because you want to get your kids to try new foods, but they refuse and always ask for the same thing. However, it's important that we don't give up on our children! In this blog post, I will share my top meal tips for getting your child to eat their food so you can make your job easier as a parent.

1. Serve vegetables as a side dish instead of just plain salad or raw vegetables

Make your vegetables into a casserole or incorporate them into an existing side dish, like cheesy broccoli and rice. Temper or cool off the food before serving it to your child, so that they don't think of the temperature as a cue for whether or not they should eat.

2. Add herbs and spices to your food

Spices can make even the most basic meal taste good. Experiment with new flavors, and add seasoning to your vegetable dishes like garlic, turmeric and cinnamon. It's a way to add flavor without adding sugar or salt. This way, they are more tasty for your little one's palate.

3. Create a family mealtime routine

Creatine a routine for meals, like eating at the table together or getting them involved to set the table, can help to set a healthy example for kids. Even if it's just one meal a day, having everyone sitting down and eating together becomes a family experience. Meal time isn't just about eating food, it's about catching up on the day and connecting with each other when we otherwise wouldn't have time.

Family Sitting at Table

4. Make sure you're not overloading their plates with too many options

It's overwhelming for kids if they have too much on their plate to choose from, and they'll end up picking what they know rather than trying something new.  By limiting their choices, they only have so much to pick from and are more likely to try something different.  

5. Encourage them to try new things by making it fun

Think about what foods are in season or which ones have been on TV lately. Try cutting up fun shapes using cookie cutters, or adding colorful sauces. If your kids are anything like mine, they love anything that they can dip. And if it's shaped like a dinosaur also, it's a no-brainer!

Child making shapes out of food

6. Offer healthier alternatives that are similar to what they usually eat

Offer things like cauliflower tots, putting vegetables on their pizza, or serving greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt. This allows for less of an adjustment period when trying something new. Hopefully your child's palates will adjust and they will become braver with new flavors and time goes on.

7. Make sure there are no distractions

Meal time is for eating. Turn off the TV, put away the phones and tablets, and focus on completing the task at hand. If your children see you on your phone during dinner, naturally they will expect to be able to watch TV while eating too. The problem is, kids are not as good at multitasking as us adults. If they have to choose between watching Blippi or eating their food, it's not hard to guess what they'll pick.

8. Let them help you prepare the meal with cooking, chopping, or stirring

One of the best ways to get your kids excited about eating their meal is to let them make it themselves! Obviously depending on their age, you will need to assist them.  But you can find cooking or chopping tasks that they are able to help with. This way, their food is personalized and they will be more excited about it!

Additional Tip: Make sure the kids clean up after themselves so this doesn't become a chore for someone else in your family.

Mother and Daughter Preparing Meal

9. Make a game out of it

Have your child guess how many peas are on their plate, then as they eat them, you can keep playing. This won't work for all kids, but it does work at a nice distraction from what their actually doing, which is eating their veggies! Another fun game is to have them try the new food and guess which food group(s) it belongs in.  If they're eating a fruit, have them guess what type of fruit it is. If they are eating something from the dairy group (such as cheese), ask which animal milk it came from - cow, goat or sheep?

10. Give them a choice between two different meals

Help promote independence while still having limitations. Let your child choose between 2 or 3 pre-determined meals that are approved by you. This can encourage them to expand their palate and try new foods, while also giving them a sense of control. If they know that they played a role in choosing which meal they can have, they are more likely to eat it.

11. Let them make up their own recipes

It can be great fun for kids to experiment with new ingredients, and they'll love watching you get into the process of cooking. What about a pasta dish with peas in it? Or rice mixed with broccoli? A pizza topped off with carrots? Keep a list going so that when your kid asks what to make next time, you and keep mixing it up or adding even more new flavors. This is another great way to let your child enforce some independence within certain limits.

12. Cheer them on when they try something new

Kids thrive on positive affirmation and feedback. It's just like when they say a bad word and someone laughs, suddenly you can't get them to stop saying it. Meal time is the same way. Show them how proud you are that they ate their veggies or tried a new casserole dish. Even if it's just one bite, the important thing is they were willing to try it.

Dad praising son for trying new food

13. Use a Colorful Plate  

Make the food on your plate more attractive for kids by adding colorful items. Cut up some bell peppers and carrots, or add orange slices to the top of their favorite dish!  Offering a variety of different colors of food, particularly vegetables, also ensures they are getting a wider range of nutrients.

14. Keep offering new foods, even if they didn't like it before

Exposure, exposure, exposure! Keep exposing your kids to some of the same new foods. Kids are finicky eaters, we all know this, and sometimes their habits are based on their current mood or just general stubbornness that day. Plus, taste buds change. I'm sure there are things you hated as a child and now love as an adult. Just because they didn't like it, or even try it, last time doesn't mean they won't eat it next time. Keep trying and don't give up!

We know that picky eating is a reality for many families with young kids. As the parent of two little ones myself, I find it challenging to get them excited about new foods or convince them to eat their meals! Luckily there are ways you can help make mealtime more enjoyable without having to serve the same "favorite" (usually unhealthy) foods for every meal. Hopefully these tips will get you and your family on the road to more stress-free dining, and maybe even sneak some veggies in their belly at the same time!

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August 17, 2021