What happens when a picky or as I like to say, discerning eater, grows up and becomes a mommy? Is it inevitable that her kids will become choosy eaters? How do you not raise picky eaters when you, yourself, are one?
As a family, we have tried many different strategies to get our kids to try new and sometimes uncommon foods, to not become picky eaters. I thought I’d share some of those tactics with you today and let you know whether they worked or not.
1. Hide it! You can start with boxed meals or even a favorite meal, but also add to it. Put cauliflower in the stew. It breaks apart and helps thicken it! Add meat or veggies to the Hamburger Helper. Rice-a-Roni has an online Meal Maker where it gives you meal options based on the ingredients you have. I hide all kinds of veggies in one pot meals! Kid approved!
2. Do you feel like you have budding vegetarians? Although we live in Wisconsin, we are not huge on meat. While we eat a good variety of meat and poultry, we easily have 2 or so dinners a week without meat. There are other ways to have protein in your meals. Try beans, fish, or eggs. Kid approved!
3. Let the kids help! It’s not an easy decision to make. Let them help in the grocery store, the garden, and in the kitchen. Things may get messy, take longer, or not come out as planned in your head, but do it! There is some truth to the theory that if you help make a meal, chances are you will be more likely to eat the meal. Kids, too! My 5 year old and I made dinner together the other night, it was great! Kid approved!
4. Keep note of what works. Was there a meal where everyone asked for seconds? Remember that and put it into your monthly rotation. Our kids love gulyas (goulash) night! Kid approved!
5. Keep it in the family! What? This came about during a “think fast” moment during a dinner with zucchini and squash. “What’s this?” Fast as fast can be, I said, “cucumber cousins”. Here’s the deal. We love our family, especially our cousins. They are so much fun! Well, my son loves cucumbers, so I figured if I tell him those veggies are relatives, maybe he will try them. It worked! He ate them and the other night, our main dish was spaghetti we made out of zucchini! Blueberries are grape cousins, brussel sprouts are cabbage cousins, and so on! Kid approved!
6. Negotiating tactics. We have tried the “well, you are four, so take 4 bites” bit. We even set an age of no refusal. It sounds drastic, but it really isn’t. Our oldest and stubbornest was given a “pass” until she turned 8. Once she turned 8, the rule was that she had to at least try whatever the disputed food was. Kid & Parent disproved! We learned our lesson and our younger kids do not have either of these options. No matter what, they have to at least try something once.
7. Accept that you can’t please everyone every time. Instead of going crazy trying to make sure every meal is something that every member of the family will love, accept that there may be a meal or two (or three or four) where not every member will be ecstatic about the selection. It may not be their favorite, but they eat it. Accept that tastes change. For some foods, I’ve tried #’s 1-5, to no avail, and then suddenly one day, this one likes mushrooms or that one likes celery! Try and try again! Parent approved!
8. Bribery. This is a Dad’s friend. You know, “If you try this or that, you will get a dollar!” My husband once paid our daughter $2 to try one bite of a gyro. One bite. Kid approved! Mom disproved!
9. Punishment. No one wants to resort to this, kids or parents. Yet, you know how important it is for your kids to eat. Threatening to take away dessert, or tv time, or a toy, is not a great option and should not be used often. But I’d be a liar if I said we never used that threat at the dinner table.
10. Take one for the team! Lead by example. If you all have the option to try something new, do it. It’s only one bite. But if your kids see you doing it, they will probably try whatever it is too! While visiting family or eating out and about, I make a point to eat whatever is in front of me. I’ve made some important discoveries, like I still do not like ham and my boys discovered they like grilled swordfish! Kid approved!
I guess the important thing to remember is to be open to trying different techniques. What works for one kid may not work for all of your kids. Also, if you have any concerns about their eating habits and nutrition, ask your pediatrician.