I have two sons. My oldest has about seven foods he will eat. My youngest will try almost anything. If you have kids that have a very “limited” palate, sometimes known as picky eaters, there can be endless frustration trying to get them to try new foods.
So how do you get picky eaters to try new foods?
I am always trying to find a way to gain some consistency in this endeavor. If it is constant stops and starts your chance for success really drops.
I found a great checklist of items here and I have modified it to apply to my approach to getting my picky eaters to try new foods.
I always start things like this with a gameplan so I can see what works and more importantly what does not work. From there I just keep making changes as necessary to try to achieve the goal of getting my picky eater trying new foods.
One thing that can be frustrating is that in one day my oldest could suddenly start eating everything and my youngest could suddenly decide he only wants to eat chicken and waffles for every meal.
So for me, my checklist of items includes:
- Share the responsibility for making this change with your kids
- Make foods that are right for their age. There might be five-year-olds out there that like sushi, but probably not many
- Stick to a regular schedule with meals
- Try to limit the number of calories that come from drinks and snacks so kids are hungry at mealtime
- Make your mealtime fun
- Understand that just like you, there may be foods your kids will never like
- Do not make different things because your kids won’t eat what you made
- Be careful with deserts. When you offer them and using them as a “reward” for eating dinner
So that is no shortlist of things to do but they all pretty much go hand-in-hand as you try to get your picky eaters trying new foods.
Ok so that is my list but I am sure you are now asking how do you put that all into action? I could tell you to have your kids make their bed every day and pick up their toys and paint the house and…..
I think the key to all of this is patience and consistency. The WORST thing you can do is make a balanced, tasty, healthy meal for your kids and they whine and you…order a pizza.
That being said it is perfectly OK to have pizza every once in a while. As with everything in parenting, there needs to be a balance because it just might be that kids have their particular tastes and eating quirks that you need to take into account.
So let’s dive into the details of this to see how we get our picky eaters eating lobster and baked Alaska (or whatever upscale meal you are working towards).
“The easiest thing you can do as a parent trying to get your picky eaters to try something new is to give in. Kids will never try new things if they are always allowed to simply fall back to what they already know”
Let’s dive into my picky eaters checklist
This is not the kind of thing that really has a finish line. I guess you could say that at some point your kids will be adults and they can make their own choices but who are we kidding….even then we will still worry about everything they do.
This is really pretty simple. You are the parent and you are controlling what types of foods are in the house and what you cook for your kids at mealtime. You also (can) control what snacks and drinks they have between meals.
Your kids make the decision of what they are going to eat (or not) and how much they will eat.
Make foods that at least stand a chance
I made the joke earlier about serving your kids sushi. Common sense tells you that are quite a few foods that your kids probably won’t like. I guess I would call these “adult” foods or the type of meals you would find at an upscale restaurant.
That is not to say do not try these foods for picky eaters, but walk before you run. Like I said my oldest barely eats anything so I am just trying to get him to eat chicken in addition to beef. Not chicken cordon bleu or chicken piccata, just basic chicken that kids would like (chicken strips, fried chicken, nicely seasoned chicken).
Stick to a schedule for picky eaters
Oh is this one important. You are, in a sense, training your kids to eat more foods. Kids love routine and stability. So if you make dinner every night at six, stick to that as best you can.
You make the meal, you all sit down, you make it fun, lather, rinse, repeat. If one night you make a sit-down meal and then the next night you get fast food and let the kids sit on the couch and eat out of a bag you are shooting yourself in the foot (culinarily speaking).
Now I have done that, we all have. That is not to say you cannot do that, but maybe sit at your table and eat just like you would with a meal you cook.
This is also important on weekends and holidays. When the kids are out of school it is easy to get out of the mealtime routine. DONT!
Make it a party
Kids are going to take their cues from you. if you make mealtime drudgery and kids feel like they “have” to do this then you are already starting at a disadvantage. Mealtime should be fun and a time for the whole family to sit together and eat, talk, laugh, whatever.
This can sometimes be a challenge at breakfast if you are rushing to get the kids out the door to school. The chances are since this is going to be an issue and your kids will eat lunch at school, make dinnertime your focus.
The truth is, dinner is the meal with the most variety and it is the perfect opportunity to get picky eaters to try new foods. If you are able, try and eat the exact meal your kids eat so they can see you eating what they are eating.
Kids are smart. They are going to be wary if you say something is good but you are not eating it yourself.
There are certain foods for me, like lima beans, that I did not like as a kid and I do not like now. Your picky eaters are going to be the same way. The trouble is that with kids you do not know if they truly do not like something new or they are just being dramatic because they do not want to try something new.
If you have tried a new food a couple of times with no luck, give it a rest for a while. Your goal is to get them to try one new thing and stick with it. So in my case, I am not trying to get my son from eating seven foods to thirty in one week, I just want to get him to food number eight.
Do NOT go back to the kitchen
This is admittedly a delicate balance. If your kids complain about what you have made and then you just keep making something else that THEY want….you know where that leads.
The flip side is what if you have made them a bunch of things that they have said they do not like or have never tried. My compromise is to include something in every meal they like so at least they will eat something.
If they just do not eat well there will always be another meal coming so let them walk away. Do not get frustrated or angry with picky eaters, just say OK and let them be hungry. They will quickly learn that what you are making is what they are eating.
If you know there is something on their plate they like there is really no excuse for them eating nothing at all. Just be flexible in your approach-not too tough, not too lenient…just right (harder than it sounds!!)
Watch out for desert
Oh, man is this a tough one. Desert should just be a part of the meal and it does NOT need to be part of EVERY meal. The worst thing you can do is make dessert a “reward.”
When you do the kids may be full from their meal but stuff their desert down anyway because….well, it is a desert. If you make a desert contingent on finishing a meal your child may begin to see deserts as the holy grail of foods and that can have long-lasting repercussions on their eating habits.
Just strive to make it a part of the meal just like any other part. You are most likely not going to have one specific food you have as part of every meal so do not make a desert any different.
The final picky eaters thoughts
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Just be patient in your approach, be encouraging, and be fun, and let your kids know you have been where they are. With your support and enthusiasm, they will learn that new foods can be amazing just in the same way you did and still continue to do.