If you are struggling with the types of foods your child will eat at home, you are not alone. As many as 50% of all parents would say they think their child is a picky eater. You are in good company.
As a first time mom, I struggled with figuring out how to feed my kids. I searched the Internet looking for answers and felt disappointed on what I found. Then, I read tons of books on the subject.
I tend to go overboard on research and found a lot of conflicting advice. One book that stood out, It’s not about the Broccoli by Dina Rose.
This article is a mix of strategies I learned along the way including many from Rose’s book. You can make a difference- even if your child won’t touch a vegetable and is hooked on processed snacks like pretzels and chicken nuggets, there is hope.
It’s a hard road ahead, but it can be done.
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Go From Processed Foods to Healthy Foods
This is a multi-prong approach and too much information for any one article to tackle. That’s why I broke out all the information into a series of articles. The links in the articles will take you to the other articles in the series.
If you are wondering why are there so many steps, it’s because teaching your child healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime are some of the hardest things you’ll ever have to teach your child. Especially when you are up against what schools offer in cafeterias, junk food commercials on TV and what his or her friends are eating.
Every child is different. Some are overeaters or under-eaters, some are processed food fanatics, while other kids won’t touch a vegetable. This series of articles touches on strategies to overcome some of the most challenging feeding issues. This is a community so please share our successes and challenges in the comments section. What’s worked for you? What hasn’t worked?
Let’s Start With Why Kids Are Picky Eaters
It’s evolutionary. It’s our body’s way of protecting itself from eating poisonous berries a long time ago. Young bodies prefer sweet foods over bitter foods. This coincides with the evolutionary safety measures instilled in us. Fruits were safe to eat sweet foods, while bitter things could be poisonous like berries. The unfortunate thing for us is vegetables also have a bitter taste, which is why kids gravitate to sweet foods like desserts and push veggies aside.
If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try And Try Again
Toddlers and preschoolers are cautious about trying new foods. Keep offering these foods over and over again. Even if you’ve offered green beans 5 to 10 times, don’t think your child just doesn’t like green beans. I
It can take 20, 30+ times of your child being exposed to the food before he or she reluctantly tries it. This doesn’t mean you need to force the issue. It’s important to just keep offering the food.
Keep changing up the preparation, adding different spices and herbs and mixing them with different ingredients. There are all these studies that show a child’s preferences are still changing so help them learn to love their veggies.
Model The Behavior You Want Your Kids To Do
If you want your kids to eat their veggies, make sure you are eating them too. Learn more about this in the article: If you don’t like your brussels sprouts, chances are your kids won’t either.
Try the Rotation Rule
Something Rose (the author of It’s not about the Broccoli), advocates is setting up the rotation rule. In her book, she goes into great detail on how to introduce this slowly to your little one, especially if he or she is a real ridged eater.
The rotation rule is where you never serve the same food two days in a row. If your child had chicken nuggets today then he can’t have chicken nuggets tomorrow. This way you don’t allow your child to get into an eating comfort zone. The more your child is exposed to a food the more accepting he or she will be of the food. If you keep serving the same foods, it’s no wonder your child gravitates to that food. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You Have To Reduce How Often You Serve Child-Friendly Foods
Another successful strategy is reducing how often your child is able to eat fun foods like French fries, ice cream, pretzels, crackers and other empty calorie foods at home. I know this one is so hard. Say no to the idea of “kid-friendly” foods. It’s a myth.
All foods are kid-friendly and most of the foods found on a kid’s menu are devoid of nutrients and are considered empty calories. Whenever you can, limit how often you make it at home. The more often you serve these foods at home, the more your child is getting attached to them.
Kids will learn to like the taste of vegetables and more flavorful foods, I promise!
Offering The Right Kind Of Snacks
We have to change our perspective on snacking. We should NOT think of snack time as treat time. It’s should be considered mini-meal time. This is another opportunity to fill your child with nutritious food that will give him or her fuel to study or play until the next meal.
Read the Ultimate Snack Guide for specifics on how to encourage good eating habits including snack time and most importantly how to get out of the processed snack food trap.
Watch This Video to Get Healthy Snacks On The Go Ideas
Use The Foods They Love To Expand Their Palate
Take an audit of the food your kids love. You can build on these foods by offering slight variations of the items. Let’s say they love chicken nuggets. Start offering different brands of chicken nuggets that have similar shapes and then get a brand that has them in completely different shapes. Then start offering homemade chicken that’s breaded similar to the chicken nuggets. Then breaded fish.
Keep going and do this with all of their favorite foods. You might be surprised by how many different foods your child eats, if you write it all down and all the variations. You might be thinking “well my kid only eats three things,” but when you start listing it out, it might be as much as 10-15. Let’s say he eats French fries, he might eat mashed potatoes too. That becomes two kinds of foods with two very different textures and consistencies.
Over time you’ll be expanding your child’s diet using his favorite foods to do it. Make sure you take a few days off before offering similar foods by using the rotation rule. You don’t want him to get in the habit of eating the same food everyday even if you are using them as a gateway. The rule is at least one day apart, if you can.
Use this Gateway Food Tracker Chart to track your child’s progress.
You might be surprised of your accomplishments if you start tracking them. Each time my little man eats a new food, I secretly high five my hubby and then write down the win!
Slowly but surely we are making progress in our own home and we hope you are too.
Get Kids To Eat More Of Their Vegetables
If your child doesn’t eat vegetables, check out this article on how get kids to eat more vegetables so much so, kids will even start to ask for seconds. There is so much good information in the veggie article about avoiding bland preparations, how to introduce new vegetables, etc.
Wait, My Kid Doesn’t Eat Enough
If your child is an under-eater, check out this article on how to handle kids who under eat.
The Kitchen Is Closed
It’s important to implement eating zones immediately.
Eating zones are times you designate as mealtimes and snacks times. Kids can only eat during a designated eating zone. If a child decides to not eat much at lunch, but then gets hungry 30 minutes later, he will have to wait until the next eating zone, which might not be for another 2 hours.
What’s the incentive to eat their meal if they can just get a snack whenever they want? Plus, if you’re like so many parents offering processed food snacks that are delicious, but empty calories, then of course they’ll pick the pretzels over the green beans and bacon.
Is dinnertime usually the worst time in your home? Do your kids negotiate the entire dinner on how to get more dessert if they eat another pea? Find out how to put an end to the dessert deal in your home.
Share your thoughts below.
Now it’s time to join the community and share what’s worked for you and what hasn’t.