One of the most frustrating things for a parent to deal with is supper time with their kids. The curse of the picky eater. It’s easy to get fed up with, well, getting your kids fed up. Along the way it becomes easier to give in to their dinner demands by becoming a short order cook. Here are some tips and tricks I use to helping curb my picky eater’s food aversions and how I get my toddler excited about trying new things.
1- The language we use : We all do it. When your toddler reaches for the thing you are eating that may be a little too spicy or a little too pungent the sentence “I don’t think you’re going to like this” escapes your lips making their mind up for them. Instead of encouraging the trial and perhaps error of trying that stinky blue cheese or overly sirachaed chicken wing, their curiosity is stopped by the dismissive phrase. This is something I have caught myself doing on numerous occasions, and something I’ve had to curb others from saying to my kid as well. I’ve found that embracing her interest and curiosity by eagerly allowing her to take a bite of my food has had a positive result on her willingness to try new things. When out at a restaurant, my husband and I try to use positive language about what the other orders. We will say “that looks good” when the food arrives and ask “may I try a bite” to demonstrate that willingness to try new things. In the end, kids are always watching and listening to their parents. When we speak, it’s important to use that positive language so that they feel comfortable enough to try new things.
2- Listen to your kid : Kids like what they like. They make up their minds and stubbornly stick to their opinions no matter how irrational, so I’ve found ways to wield that stubbornness in my favor. Using flavors or foods that have already been established as tasty, I’ve been able to get my daughter to try a wider variety of foods. I have a basic list of staple items : cheese, ground meat, taco seasoning, guacamole (not avocado), salsa, sausages, eggs, breads. For the most part, if it appears in a taco it is a safe assumption that it will be well received. Now that I have these base items and flavors, I have been able to coax her into trying new things. The other day I was even able to get her to try jackfruit! I’ve also found that if I’m willing to listen when my daughter says she doesn’t like something, she is more willing to at least try it. Of course we have a small chat about what she doesn’t like about it (sometimes she can tell me, sometimes I get no more than a “yucky”), but knowing that I won’t push her if she honestly doesn’t like something definitely helps increase her desire to try.
3- Get them involved : The best technique I have found to get my child to at least try a new food is to get her involved in making it : putting on her little apron, showing the steps, cutting the veggies, using the machines, stirring & mixing, watching it bake and finally getting able to taste it. Including my kiddo gets her excited about the food we are eating. It is not always a hit, but nurturing that curiosity and positive relationship with food is always the main goal. Going back to the language we use, one day I was making egg muffins and my daughter reached out to taste some of the raw onion we had just chopped together. She was so excited to try what we were making that she reached out that little hand, scooped up some onion and tried it. I fought the urge to discourage her as raw onion is so pungent, and I am glad I did because, to my surprise, she actually liked it and that small taste made her even more excited to taste the final product. Furthermore, presenting them with options and allowing them to choose things like breakfast and snacks makes them feel more in control and secure when it comes to their palate.
4- Variety, variety, variety : Kids get bored easily. Their likes and dislikes are constantly evolving. Some days my kid will sit down and be my bottomless pit, other days, she’s happier to just graze which is why I find a variety is key. In the morning, together we fill an ice cube tray with snack options. I found one with a lid at the Dollar Store which has been a great addition to getting my kiddo’s diet in check. I keep a variety of healthy snacks for her to choose from. We will fill the small compartments with fruits, veggies and grains and she will be able to nosh throughout the day. I have found that having her feel responsible or in control of her eating limits the amount of daily battles around food stubbornness. I also make sure to have a few options on her dinner plate–especially when I am trying to coax her in to trying something new. Different flavors and options always lead to more meal time successes in the ArEsse household!
5- Dip it : I firmly believe that dips are a parent’s greatest ally when it comes to the success of meal times. Condiments, humus and guacamole have all helped in getting my daughter to eat. Again, you are using tastes that have already been established as okay in your kiddo’s eyes, and you are wielding them in your favor. Now, I have started actually using the dips as a way to sneak in new flavors as well. The other day, I made a beet humus. Because of it’s similar consistency to a chic pea humus there was less hesitation to try it and the beautiful pink color didn’t hurt either!
6- Family meal time : Aside from it being a great habit to get into, and that it is quality time to sit and actually have a conversation in this increasingly busy world, parents are the best example when it comes to building a positive relationship with food. It also teaches good habits and table manners which will help on those nights when you get out to a restaurant. Another advantage of sitting at the table for meals helps limit distractions so your kiddo might actually eat their meal, and research has shown that it also decreases overeating.
7- Sweet Tooth : Let’s face it, as delicious as they are, sweets are called treats for a reason. It is hard though. I don’t want to create a situation with sweets that they are some forbidden fruit, so I find that having some form of dessert in the evenings does help with her over all relationship with sweets. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but overall we try to keep the sweets to be true treats; otherwise, these treats can become meal replacements and kids will be less likely to eat the more nutritious food available. Of course as a parent, sometimes sweets can be our life line to sanity, but I’ve found with my kid that a little creativity and being prepared with a healthy alternative can go a long way. Some of our favorites are : avocado pudding, fruit and yogurt dips, banana ice cream. I also find that substituting something tart will work too.
8- Make it fun : At the end of the day, if it’s not fun, your kiddo will be less likely to be excited about it. Cookie cutters are a great trick to getting my kid to try new things, colors and presentation all help when it comes to a meal time success. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way one of those amazing bento box moms, but if I am introducing a new fruit or taste, a cookie cutter can go a long way for my mental health! I also find with my kid that something as simple as picking out her own cutlery (we recently picked up some cool new airplane spoons) or her own plate have an effect on meals.