We have some picky eaters in our family, and I’m not just talking about the shorter members. I wrote recently about the boundaries we’ve set as a family when it comes to eating dinner. Admittedly, those boundaries won’t work for every family, but they seem to work for us right now.
In case you’ve found yourself in the same boat, struggling to get your little birds to open their mouths at dinner time (and not just to complain), here are five ideas that help get our kids noshing with the best of them!
1. Deconstruct Dinner
This is a concept I introduced in the previous food post. We all have subtle food preferences. My husband doesn’t like cheese, and I can’t get enough. Our kids have their own preferences too. Whenever possible, I try to leave dinner deconstructed so that the kids can make some of their own choices. Build your own pizzas, baked potato or salad bars, or as you like it tacos and burritos give kids the autonomy to make some of their own selections and even do some low-level food prep as they put their plates together.
I laugh to myself when I see my son’s salad plate comprised essentially of spinach, carrots, and alfalfa sprouts, while mine carries a bit more of the not-all-that-nutritious extras! Sometimes picky kids will actually make more healthy selections when left to their own devices! Learn more about this approach in my post at The Organized Parent.
2. Do a Cookbook Flip
Every now and then, as I do my meal planning, I hand my boys a stack of cookbooks (with great photographs) and ask them to put post-its on any recipes they want to try. This serves a lot of different purposes! Not only do I get out of my cooking rut, but I get a sense of what my boys like. In one session, I realized that my middle son craves red meat, as he had marked every steak, roast, and prime rib recipe he stumbled on. (Though our budget and cardiologist require that his selections be spaced out a bit!)
Additionally, this activity helps to build an attitude of adventure and trying something new. I emphasize, as they flip through pages and pepper me with questions, that we don’t know what it will taste like, but we’ll try it out together! When their selection appears on the menu, I emphasize that we’re trying their new recipe and ask everyone to give their thumbs down or thumbs up response. It helps to reinforce the notion that we can try new things without being forced to eat them forever, which opens kids up to trying without fighting.
3. Go Adventure Shopping
I try to be flexible when my kids ask about a novel food and add it to the cart. Whole coconuts? Why not? Star fruit? Let’s try it out! Pomegranates? You betcha! I may be a bit more stingy when it comes to trying out the latest box of color-blasted sugar bombs, but if it’s REAL food and they’re curious about it, I try to oblige. Star fruit seems like a lot at $3 a piece, but I figure that’s cheap tuition for a course in palate-building. (Besides, I remind myself, I’ve spent more than that on candy without batting an eye. We can splurge on fruit!) Approach new foods as an adventure and your kids will likely follow suit.
4. Get Cookin’
Getting kids involved in the cooking process can make them more open to eating it. When kids have some ownership in the process, they feel more autonomy, which reduces some of the developmentally-driven aspects of the battles over food.
Encourage kids to take risks and be creative, trying out new twists when possible. The idea that “I don’t know what this will taste like. We’ll just have to try it and see.” can go a long way in creating an attitude about food that keeps kids open to trying new things.
Smoothies are a great place to let kids take the reins. My boys love sour smoothies, so they’ve discovered the secret ingredient for them is one whole lime or lemon in the mix. I have to admit, some of their creations have been quite tasty! And when they’re not, we just add a little more of this or that until it works. Perfect safety net! (For a great framework to start from, try these smoothie guidelines from Our Best Bites and check out my Smoothie Pinterest board for more concoctions!)
5. Check Your Own Attitude
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like fish. Ironically, my boys, whom I’ve labeled as picky eaters, do. I try to be a good example of trying new things, by taking a little taste of fish when it comes up on our menu. And generally, I make a pretty concerted effort to make sure they notice!
Showing your kids that you’re willing to try things you think you don’t like (and not making a big production about the things you just can’t stomach!) can go a long way in shaping their own attitudes. Showing excitement about trying new things together and engendering an attitude of “let’s try it and see”, can take away some of the anxiety kids have about trying new foods.
What’s your secret?