Kids who won’t try new foods can drive parents crazy. We want to cook exciting new foods (or even just not our weekly fare) but we’re too scared because we know our kids will kick up a huge fuss. We’ll end up with meal time battles, stress and hungry kids. It feels as if it’s easier just to stick to the same 3 meals every week. But at what cost?
As a pediatric doctor, I know how important it is for kids to eat healthy foods, as well as variety. It wasn’t until I became a parent to picky eaters that I realised how difficult it can be to get kids to eat vegetables.
Today I share with my method of helping my own picky kids so that I can enjoy eating the food I want to eat, without having to worry that my kids will go hungry.
- How to present new foods to kids in a calm way so that you can enjoy meal times.
- Useful tools to present new foods to increase the chance of your child trying them so they can grow up to be healthy eaters.
- The one big mistake that many parents make that actually makes picky eating worse.
Remember we have the whole of childhood to teach kids healthy eating habits.
Kids copy healthy eating and living.
Two types of eaters. At one end we have “picky eaters”. Some picky eaters would rather not eat than eat foods they dislike. (Which means they’d rather go hungry.)
At the other end of the spectrum we have “adventurous” eaters. They’re far more willing to try new foods and they’re not keen on going hungry. They’d rather eat something they don’t like than go hungry. This later group, is easier to feed from a parent’s point of view, but more like to develop the habit of over eating. (And therefore, more likely to have problems with weight later on in life.)
Kids divide foods into “accepted”, “yuck” and “I don’t know it” (which they say they don’t like.)
As parents, we want to increase the “accepted list”. You want to grow it outwards with similar foods.
What they really mean is “I don’t know it” and “it’s not familiar”.
This is a controversial area. The danger is that you push children to eat and it back fires. You end up with meal time battles and feeding becomes a struggle.
Here's an article on my "SnottyNoses" site all about the one bite rule and why I don't recommend it. Stop Picky Eating with This One Simple Phrase.
It’s better to allow children to feel in control of what they eat and what goes into their mouths. And you can do that in a way that doesn’t mean they just get to eat cake the whole time. (As much as they’d like to!)
For more details of the “Division of Responsibility” check out the Ellyn Satter Institute.
I’m sure you’ve read that it takes 15 times of trying a new food to decide whether they like it or not. That’s 15 willing times. Which can take a long time.
Also, they might decide that they actually don’t like it!
Variety of vegetables is one of the keys to healthy eating. Variety is also really important when it comes to teaching our kids about new foods. The more variety they have, the more variety they’ll eat.
My kids are definitely carb junkies. Given the choice, they’d live off “white carbs”. But proportions are super important. If I allow them to eat loads of bread, they won’t eat any vegetables.
Present them with an appropriate portion of the foods that they’ll easily eat. And allow them free reign of more difficult foods such as vegetables.
You can also think about how you present them. For example, carrot sticks and cucumber slices are on the table for them to help themselves to. Or they can have some chopped tomatoes whilst they wait for a second portion of “white carbs”.
Kids will learn to help themselves to vegetables!
Present similar foods to food they already accept. For example, if they like strawberries (red and soft), try them with raspberries (also red and soft.)
Present a new food with a food on the accepted list. For example, if your kids like cheese, try broccoli with melted cheese on top.
In my experience, this just leads to kids losing their trust in you. I allow my kids to pick out foods they don’t like (or accept yet.)
As always, we need to balance our short term problems (what to eat for dinner) with our long term goals.
In summary! Step back and look at the bigger picture. We want our kids to enjoy healthy foods but we don’t get there by creating a big issue out of it. Once we let go of the stress, we find that introducing new foods to kids can be fun and easy.