Although all parents want their children to eat a healthy, varied diet, the fact is that many children are picky when it comes to food. They are prone to whining, crying or simply refusing to eat when presented with a meal they don’t like. It’s important not to give in to this kind of behavior if you want your kids to eat and enjoy a wide variety of foods. This article will show you how to get your kids to eat almost anything – just see Step 1 below to get started.
Developing Good Habits
Understand the importance of developing good habits. Children learn from an early age and are very easy to influence through the use of routine and the introduction of good habits. Once your kids get into the habit of being adventurous and trying new foods, you’ll find it a lot easier to broaden their horizons and expand their taste buds.
Have your kids sit at the table for every meal. One of the best habits you can teach your kids is that they always have to sit at the table when eating. Do not let them eat food in front of the television or alone in their rooms. This will create a routine around meals. In addition, eating together as a family can help picky eaters—kids are often more likely to try foods that they see their parents eating.
Let your kids know that if they want to eat at all, they have to sit at the table. Tell them that they can’t go back to watching TV or outside to play until they are finished eating.
If they refuse to eat, ask them to sit at the table for a while, then let them go.
Eat without distractions. Mealtimes should be an opportunity for the family to sit and talk to each other. Avoid having the television or radio on in the background, or letting your child play with a cell phone or video game throughout the meal.
Once your child accepts the fact that there are no distractions allowed during mealtimes, they will be more willing to come and sit at the table and eat their plate of food quickly.
Avoiding distractions at the table also provides a good opportunity for you to catch up with your child, to ask them questions about school, about their friends and their lives in general.
Establish a routine. Establishing a firm routine when it comes to meals and snacks is a good idea, as your child will know when to expect food and will be hungry enough to eat it when the assigned time arrives.
For example, you could offer your child three meals per day and two snacks. Aside from these pre-arranged eating times, don’t allow your child to have anything else to eat. That will help ensure that they’re hungry when it’s time to sit down to a meal.
Introduce new foods alongside old favorites. When introducing a new food, serve it alongside at least one of your child’s favorites. For example, try serving broccoli with mashed potatoes, or some salad along with a slice of pizza.
Serving a new food along with an old favorite will help your child to accept the new food and make them more enthusiastic about sitting at the table in the first place.
For kids who are more resistant, you could make a rule that they will only be allowed to eat their favorite food (such as the pizza) when they have eaten all of the new type of food (such as the salad).
Reduce the number of snacks your child eats. If your child is pretty picky with food, try to reduce the number of snacks they eat during the day. This will hopefully create an appetite and desire for a varied diet.
A child who eats too many snacks between meals probably will not be hungry come mealtimes and therefore will not be willing to eat something new.
Limit snacks to two or three per day, and try to make them something healthy, like apple slices, a yogurt or a handful of nuts.
Making Mealtimes Fun
Try to make mealtimes fun and interactive. Mealtimes should be fun and interactive. They shouldn’t be stressful, or always end up with the child crying or complaining about something they don’t want to eat. Eating should be an enjoyable experience for everyone at the table.
Compare the taste of different foods (fish is salty, cheese is creamy, etc), talk about the diversity of colors (orange carrots, green Brussels sprouts, purple beets, etc) or ask your child to guess the taste of a certain food based on its smell.
You could also try serving the food in an interesting way. For example, you could make a face on your child’s plate, using spaghetti for hair, meatballs for eyes, a carrot for the nose and ketchup for the mouth.
Prepare food together. Include your child in the preparation of food and discuss the reasons why you put certain foods together, in terms of complimentary flavors and colors. Being involved in the cooking process will make your child much more curious to test out the finished product.
Another great way to get your child interested and involved in the food preparation process is to allow them to grow or pick out their own food. For example, you could try growing your own tomato plant and give your child the responsibility of watering it each day and checking to see if the tomatoes are ripe.
You could also try bringing your child to a produce farm and allow them to pick their own apples, berries, etc. This will make them much more excited about eating them.
Offer a reward. If your child does not want to try a certain food, try offering a small prize. If they promise to eat everything on their plate, you could reward them with a small dessert after their meal, or to bring them somewhere nice, like the park or to visit a friend.
Watch what you say to children. One mistake that a lot of parents make is that they tell their children that eating a certain food will make them big, healthy and strong.
While this can be effective for getting the child to eat, it makes eating seem like something a child has to do, rather than something they should enjoy doing.
Instead, try to focus on all of the fantastic and varied flavors that food has to offer. Teach your kids to take pleasure in mealtimes and to embrace the opportunity to try new things. Once your child develops a zest for eating and trying new things, they will be willing to eat almost anything you put in front of them!
Enforcing Mealtime Rules
Set some firm mealtime rules. Having firm rules in place will provide structure to your mealtimes and help you to broaden your kid’s taste buds. For example, one of the most important rules you could set is: everyone has to eat what is served, or at least try it. Do not allow your child to refuse a certain food if they have not even tried it.
Giving in to a child’s tears and outbursts you will not help you to achieve your goal. Be patient and firm in your rules, and results will eventually follow.
Provide a good example for your children. Children look to their parents for many reasons, including to see what they eat and how they relate to a particular type of food.
If you do not eat a certain type of food or make faces while you eat something you don’t like, how can you expect your child to eat it? Let your child know that the mealtime rules apply to everyone, not just them.
Therefore, you should try to be a good role model by eating what your child eats, when your child eats it.
Don’t put pressure on your child to eat. In terms of mealtimes, you as the parent decide what will be served, when it will be served and where it will be served. After that, it’s up to the child whether they’re going to eat or not.
The more pressure you put on your child to eat certain foods, the more likely they’ll be to push back and resist those foods.
Be patient. You child will not learn to accept and enjoy new foods overnight. Being adventurous with food is a habit that has to be formed, just like any other habit. Be patient and do not give up on your quest to teach your child how and why they should eat healthy and diverse foods.
Remember to give your child enough time to accept a new food. Don’t just try a food once, then give up if your child says they don’t like it.
Serve it as part of a meal at least three times before you give in – sometimes it takes kids a while to warm up to a new food and realize that they actually enjoy it.
Do not punish the child if they refuse to eat. Do not punish your child if they refuse to eat a certain food – this can make them even more averse to eating it.
Instead, calmly explain to the child that they will not be given anything else to eat until the next meal, and that they will be very hungry if they don’t eat now.
Make it clear that it’s the child’s own decision to go hungry – they are not being punished. If you persist with this techniques, children will eventually give in and eat what’s in front of them.