90 TIPS FOR PICKY EATERS
• Don't prepare a separate meal for your child when they reject the meal you have prepared. This will promote picky eating.
• Allow your kids to play with their food. Some kids want to explore the food by touching it, smelling it, licking it before they are ready to taste it.
• Vegetables are never going to be the top of the list of favorite food for kids. Instead, have them eat the vegetables they are willing to eat.
• Don't deprive your kids of treats. Occasional treats are fine. Depriving kids completely can lead to food obsession.
• Praise other kids (siblings, friends, cousins, neighbors) when they eat something you child will not eat. Your child will acknowledge that praise and attention and does want it from you too.
• Have a standard second option for times when kids will not eat the meal offered. Avoid making something else for a child if they do not want to eat what has been prepared. Allow the child to make themselves the alternate option. It is best when the alternate option is healthy, quick to prepare, easy for them to do themselves and also not their favorite food. It may surprise you how often they will decide what is being offered is better than making themselves the standard second option.
• Limit liquid calories, other than milk, to 4 to 6 ounces for children ages 1 to 6. That's 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup. Avoid juice with added sugars. Water it down gradually until your child is drinking plain water.
• Kids with a sweet tooth enjoy snacks that are naturally sweet. Some healthy options are: yogurt, fruit, frozen bananas or grapes, apple slices with peanut butter, etc.
• Give food fun names. Let younger kids help create silly names for foods. Be creative and let your kids imagination go wild and you may be surprised what a difference it can make.
• Try not to micromanage how your child eats. It is your job to prepare the food. The child is in charge of how much they will eat and if they eat at all. Keep in mind, eating is one way a child can have control and you should not battle that.
• Positive enforcement when they are willing to eat healthy foods. Kids love positive attention and respond favorably to it.
• Always give straightforward praise instead of basing the praise on how you feel. For example: "That's great you tried the asparagus," instead of "Mommy is so happy you tried the asparagus that was cooked just for you."
• Transition foods your child prefers to healthier options. For example: If your child only eats chicken nuggets dipped in ketchup transition to baked nuggets with less breading dipped in ketchup, then to grilled chicken strips dipped in ketchup, then to chicken breast with pasta or rice, and finally chicken with vegetables and rice or pasta.
• For kids with sensory issues with texture, try to puree foods to a smooth texture. As time goes by, puree to a chunkier consistency until they are able to eat the actual foods.
• Scale back on snacks and drinks throughout the day so your kids are actually hungry for meals. Many times we do not realize how much they are consuming between meals until we record a food log.
• Never make a big ordeal of your child trying something new. The more casual you are about it, he more likely they will follow through and eat it. Avoid cheering him on to eat it or starring at him as they put it in their mouth.
• Make a game out of snack time. Have the child roll the die and then they eat the number they roll alternating between a food they really like and a food that is a healthier option that they do not love.
• New foods can be especially difficult for some kids. Encourage your child by talking about a food's color, shape aroma and texture - not whether it tastes good. Serve new food with something you know your child likes.
• Don't ever tell your kids that they will not like a certain food. Always assume they will and offer it to them first. Allow them to decide if they like it or not.
• Try the two-food trick. If you know your child hates peas but spaghetti is their favorite, add some peas to their spaghetti. Your child may eat the spaghetti with the peas, they might eat the spaghetti picking out the peas or they may not eat the spaghetti at all. This gives your child control of their food but in the process they might realize that the peas touching the spaghetti did not hurt the spaghetti or they may even realize that peas don't taste bad after all.
• Make mealtime fun by having a picnic in the yard or somewhere with different scenery. Keep the mood upbeat and happy.
• Sometimes those divider plates help with meal time. It is visually pleasing to kids to have a variety and it keeps foods from all touching each other. Let them decide what they eat and in what order. Allow one pass but they can not have seconds on anything until they eat everything else.
• Be a role model for your children. Kids are sponges and soak up everything (often to a parent's surprise). Choose healthy snacks yourself and prepare healthy meals.
• Try family-style meals. This means that each food is placed on the table in a serving dish and each person helps themselves of whatever items they desire. Many times picky eaters will be less picky when they can serve their own plate as they feel they are in control which will eliminate the power-struggle.
• Allow your child to be mom's helper one night a week. Kids will be more excited to eat something they help make.
• Blindfold your child and play a guessing game. See if your child can identify each food. Include foods you know your child loves and mix in some foods they have not been willing to eat but you think they would like.
• Try to avoid begging and pleading for them to try something, just try again another time.
• Some kids are sensitive to textures of food. Pay attention to what foods your child has trouble with. If they don't like mushy foods then offer them apple slices instead of applesauce, bake potato strips instead of serving mashed potatoes, etc. Try serving them mushy food with a crunchy food like giving them a graham cracker to dip in applesauce.
• Do not have an all or nothing policy with their food. Allow them to determine when they are full and also respect them when they try a food and do not like it.
• Make up a story behind the food or create a character based story and encourage your kids to play things out as they eat. Eating vegetables pretending to be superman is way more fun than eating boring vegetables.
• Involve kids in the grocery shopping. Teach them about healthy foods and allow them to help pick out fruits and vegetables.
• Kids love to dip. Make a yogurt dip for fruit slices, honey mustard with cheese, or a favorite dressing like ranch for veggies.
• Let kids stop eating when they are full. Do not require them to eat everything on their plate.
• Vegetables tend to be one of the hardest foods for children to eat. The key is to introduce vegetables at an early age and regularly offering them various vegetables, but don't force them to eat something they do not like. Taste does change so always have them try different varieties.
• Minimize distractions during meal time. Turn off the television and make sure no phones or tablets are allowed at the table during meal time. Instead, have positive conversation with your children and ask about the details of their day.
• Tell your kids that their favorite character eats certain foods and if they want to be like them, they should eat them as well.
• Make meal time fun. Try a silly hat night, superhero or princess night, talk like a pirate night, green night. These are simple ways that will have young children look forward to meal time instead of dreading it.
• When you are trying to have your child try something that they probably will not like, start VERY small and encourage them to just taste it and follow up with a food you know they do like. For example: a single pea, a tiny square of sweet potato, etc. Then, at subsequent meals, remind them they ate it last time and increase the portion of the new food and phase out the follow up food.
• Be patient. Your child's eating habits are not formed nor do they change overnight. However, consistent small steps you take each day will promote a lifetime of healthy eating.
• Don't make a big deal about dessert. If you are comfortable with allowing your child dessert after dinner then give them the dessert just as it is any other food for dinner. A good ides is to include it on their plate with their dinner and have a rule that they must have one bite of everything before having a bite of the dessert. At first they might only have 1 noodle, 1 pea and 1 bite of chicken and then eat their entire cookie but you will find that they will gradually eat more of the healthy foods.
• Presentation is everything. Keep it colorful and interesting. It literally takes an extra minute to rearrange food into a smiley face, a letter, pac-man, etc.
• Avoid restricting certain foods. research shows that not allowing your children to eat certain foods only raises their desirability for that food. Maybe have some "all the time foods" that are healthy foods, some "sometimes foods" that are good food options and some "once in a while foods" that are treats.
• Encourage kids to eat their colors. Often times kids gravitate towards white more processed foods which also tend to lack nutrients. Eating brightly colored foods provides more nutrients in a greater variety.
• Try to ever avoid your child hearing you call them a picky eater. When you label your child as a picky eater, the more you and your child will believe it.
• Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime, even if they do not eat.
• Talk about it before mealtime. Talk about where you will eat, what will be served, where the food is from, why the food is good for you, etc. Kids will be more apt to try something new when they have been exposed to it even in conversation.
• Try using a lettuce instead of bread for sandwiches and see if they can eat it without anything slipping out. Sometimes the novelty will win them over.
• For each meal, make a strict one-bite rule that they have to at least try one bite and remind them that it won't hurt them if it tastes bad. Allow them to wash it down with water if they do not like it opposed to spitting it out. If they do not like it, they do not have to eat anymore.
• Respect your child's appetite or lack of appetite. You do not want a power struggle over food or for your child to associate mealtime with anxiety or frustration.
• Be persistent. Sometimes it takes a child trying something 10-15 times before they like it. However, once you get the ball rolling on tasting new foods, it takes an average of only 6 times trying something before they accept it. But remember, never force them to eat it if they taste it and do not like it.
• The power of a blender can be huge for picky eaters. There is something about a smoothie or shake that all kids love. A strawberry shake tastes exactly the same with or without raw spinach. You might need to start off with fewer veggies then gradually increase the nutrients as your child trusts that the shakes taste good.
• Limit the amount of sweets and processed foods you have on hand. Instead, keep healthy options that are fast and available: cheeses, fruit, fresh veggies, yogurt, etc.
• If you are hiding vegetables in your kids' food tell them about it as they are eating or afterwards. They need to know the hidden ingredient isn't so horrifying after all.
• Most children get over being super picky by the time they reach school age. Praise your child for what they are doing right at mealtime but don't make a big deal about their picky behavior. The more you talk about it, the more likely they will keep doing it.
• Meals and snacks for young children should be every two to three hours. Take food away until the next meal rather than leaving their lunch out and allow them to graze on it throughout the day. Kids will do better on a schedule and will learn to eat during meal and snack times.
• Have your kids try everything on their plate but give them a free pass. If they don't use their free pass then they get a reward of a book read to them, 10 extra minutes of TV before bed, or extra play time outside the following day.
• Allow your picky eater to pick what's for dinner periodically. Recipe books with pictures, magazines and online searches are good places to let them explore. It just might surprise you what they want to try.
• Don't use desserts or sweets as a tool for kids to eat their dinner, as they may associate the dessert with a higher value than there main meal and push more focus towards an obsession with sweets.
• Little boys are goofy and sometimes gross. It's true. If a little boy knows that broccoli causes gas and well... also the loudest farts, he will eat it just laughing away.
• Avoid making deals with your child about their food. Strategies like "two more bites then..., or eat this and you'll get that, or after you eat all your lunch then you can ..." are not good in the long run. They teach your kids that they should get a reward for everything they do and soon they will not do anything unless their is a reward for it.
• Offer the same food to the whole family even when you think your child will not like something. Just make sure you make at least one thing you know they will like.
• Involve kids in food preparation. Let them help wash, stir, add spices, measure, peel and possibly chop. Kids tend to eat more of the things they put their energy and creativity into.
• Look for ways to boost the nutritional value in foods without making a drastic difference in taste, appearance or texture. Some ideas are adding wheat germ to macaroni and cheese, pureed vegetables in pasta sauce, chunks of fruit in cereal, etc.
• Avoid adding excessive sugar to foods as a bribe so your child will eat it. We may think it is better that they are eating something but sugar typically is worse than the benefit of what you are trying to get them to eat.
• Try oven baked fries - using half sweet potato and the other half regular potato.
• It is important to teach your kids how to handle unwanted food calmly. Having an unwanted pickle on the hamburger will not contaminate it. Children should learn to push the food they do not like aside and eat what they do like.
• Stand your ground but stay calm. Don't enable your kids to challenge your food offers. It is easier to modify and give up but giving in will show them that their behavior allows them the food they want without even trying the new food. When they try a single bite, you have won.
• Do not over season foods. Sometimes the spice, salt and seasonings we like are too much for kids.
• Small portions for kids are best. Give them the opportunity to independently ask for more. Many parents often put larger portions on plates than what the child can and should eat. A nice rule of thumb is that a serving size should be as large as the palm of your child's palm.
• Never demand your child to eat certain foods as it attaches a negative connotation to it. Kids long to control their worlds and doing that through food comes naturally.
• Keep an eye on the calories your child is getting from liquids. Juice is high is calories and often high sugar as well. Kids over 2 years old should drink 2-2.5 cups of 2% or whole milk per day. Use 1% or skim if your pediatric health care provider recommends this because of your child's weight.
• Mix vegetables into foods you know your child likes. For example: chopped broccoli in spaghetti, grated zucchini in macaroni and cheese, carrots and celery into casseroles, kale into soups, etc. The key here is to also tell them what you added to it as they eat it (or even after they eat it).
• Talk about food benefits with your kids. Boys always want to be big and strong and girls always want long and pretty hair. This discussion is typically better before mealtime. Some optimal times is during menu planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation.
• Having a hard time getting enough protein into your child's diet? Try a meat filled ravioli or chicken quesadilla. Often times their favorite carbs and cheeses will hide the protein.
• Encourage your child to try a new food but do not make a big deal out of it if they do not want to.
• Sometimes kids have a hard time sitting still at mealtime and doing vestibular activities a hour or two before meals can help. Some vestibular activities include:
jumping: hopscotch, jumprope, jumping jacks, exercise inflatable ball
running: game of tag, obstacle course, race down the street and back, hide and seek
balance activities: walk with item on your head, play twister, walk on curb
playground activities: swinging, slides, hanging upside down on monkey bars
• Older siblings are often times the best role models for younger kids. Have your older children, cousins or friends comment on how yummy something is and your child will often follow their lead.
• Offer choices that do not matter as it will often end the power struggle. For example: "Do you want your spaghetti mixed together or separate on your plate?" or for younger kids, "Do you want the pokemon bowl or the lego bowl?" Just make it clear that they can have choices at home but not when you are out..
• Allow kids to graze off your plate. Children are more prone to try new foods if they see their parents eating it first and hearing them say how good it is. Have you ever heard the phrase, "You always want what you can't have?" Sometimes kids want is on their parents plate simply because it wasn't offered to them.
• Make fun food when you can by cutting foods into various shapes using cookie cutters.
• Involve kids in meal planning. Let them help choose what is on the menu and put it somewhere the kids can know what is for dinner. It helps prepare the kids and cuts down on complaining about what's for dinner.
• Don't force kids to eat food they do not like. However, have them try it as their taste preferences can change frequently.
• Bake muffins with carrots, zucchini or applesauce. Sometimes you may need to introduce healthy foods in a not as healthy way. For example, you might need to add a frosting or chocolate chips to a muffin for your child to eat it at first but you can gradually reduce the not so healthy ingredients with healthy options.
• Add thinly sliced, stir-fried veggies to chicken and rice. Start with just carrots and celery then continue to add various vegetables like broccoli, bell pepper, onions, peas, etc.
• Kids sometimes have color preferences to foods. Idea is to make mash potatoes with 90% white and 10% sweet potato and they won't detect a taste difference and will accept the slight color difference. As time goes by, decrease the white and increase the sweet potato and your child will not freak out at the bright orange potato when done gradually.
• Allow your kids to touch and smell food before tasting it. It is common for kids to put a little bite in their mouth and take it out and look at it before deciding to eat it. Be patient as they explore their food.
• For younger children, sometimes it helps to act like the food is talking. For example, put the food on a fork and say "I'm looking for my friends and they are in your tummy, can you let me come in and find them?"
• Fresh vegetables are often easier for kids as cooked vegetables tend to have a stronger smell and flavor. Cut vegetable in various shapes and offer with a dip/sauce.
• Earlier is always better with food. It is important to expose your child to a variety of healthy foods at a young age and to keep trying foods over and over again while they are young. Food preferences that are developed at an early age remain fairly stable and are reflected by the food choices they make as they get older. We all know parenting is a learning process so this might be one of those things we can say we learned the hard way.
• Set a schedule. I know this can be very difficult with our busy schedules but kids do better knowing when their meals and snacks are. It is recommended for children to have 3 meals and 2 snacks each day.
• Juice and soda are full of calories and sugar. 100% juice and milk are great options with meals but also can fill kids up. Serve water with meals and juice and milk with snacks or vice versa.
• Do a tasting taste with your kids. Have 5 different veggies and 3 different dips and let them tell you their favorite combinations and their least favorite combinations. This not only allows you to get them to try a variety of veggies but it will also let you know what veggies they prefer over others. This also is helpful for teenagers and older kids that "already know" they don't like something.
• Try to avoid being a picky eater yourself. Again, kids will model your example.
• Make mealtime an enjoyable experience. Keep calm, have good conversations and a positive attitude will make a big difference.