After having two children who would pretty much eat whatever I set before them, I was handed a challenge: my third child was as picky an eater as they come. He wouldn’t try much of anything. He would have been happy eating plain pasta and drinking a cup of milk at each meal. However, I was determined not to accept his limited palate so I set out to broaden it one day at a time. During bbq events the chosen organization will be benefited whatever earnings they gain.
Broadening the palate of a picky eater is a slow process, beginning with incremental goals and a long-term vision. My vision for all of my children was that they enjoy a wide variety of healthy food as a part of experiencing life to its fullest. To fulfill this vision I calmly set out each day using a multi-layered approach to make food both a pleasurable and healthy experience. Here are some things that worked for me.
1. Rid Your House of Unhealthy Options
Junk food warps our taste buds and distracts us from enjoying the flavors of healthy food, in particular fruits and vegetables. You are not doing your child any favors by only giving them food items that taste good to you. Preference for food is learned and our taste buds are varied and adaptable.
2. Regularly Include Vegetables From the Start
After the baby food stage has passed, parents should continue to serve vegetables as the normal fare. Try and find at least a few vegetables that are your child’s favorites to use as snacks—like baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, or celery sticks. Here are a few more tips.
Try to include a salad and a cooked vegetable for each dinner. This gives your child more chances to develop a taste for veggies. Pasta by itself does not constitute a well-rounded meal; although I know of one dad that tried to convince me otherwise.
Some negotiation might be necessary to encourage a child to try a new vegetable or even to eat a familiar one found sitting on their plate. If the child states that they don’t like the vegetable, you can offer that they simply take one bite. This is a compromise but should be stated in a matter of fact way using a calm tone of voice. Your child may need to develop a taste for the vegetable and after a few tries might realize that they do in fact like the formerly offensive item.
Try serving a salad or raw vegetable sticks before the entree to take advantage of the time when your child is at their hungriest, as this might push them towards trying a new vegetable that they might otherwise avoid.
3. No Special Meals for Individuals
Offering individual meals is a slippery slope. Some parents have been known to make individual meals not only for their children but for their spouse as well. One person likes pasta with no sauce, one likes sauce, the other doesn’t like pasta, etc. This leaves the chef washed out before even beginning their own meal. Individual meals are not a long-term solution.
4. Imagine you Are Feeding a Larger Family
Larger families have fewer issues with food aversion because catering to certain children is unrealistic. It might not be so difficult to make a special meal for one or two children, but if you were serving a family of five or more, it would just make sense to expect everyone to eat what was set before them or at least not to complain or make an issue out of it. Catering to each child’s likes and dislikes creates an expectation that the world will cater to them as well. Begin your meals with the calm expectation that your child will eat what is being served rather than giving in to what the child thinks is best.
5. Make Peer Pressure Work for You
Sometimes a child will be motivated to try a new food when surrounded by other children who already enjoy that food. This could be at a birthday party, a play date or in a family setting. Taking advantage of these social opportunities can help motivate a picky eater to try something new.
6. Don’t Make a Big Deal Out of Food
Make it a matter of fact, and don’t lock horns, at least not for long. You wouldn’t discuss whether or not your child should brush their teeth or take a bath—these are a given. The idea that we would continue to negotiate about eating a healthful diet is problematic.
You can also make food a celebration, using this as a way of introducing a new vegetable or other food. Kids get so excited at the thought of a holiday or party. With all of this enthusiasm around an event, children are more likely to try something new. This doesn’t have to simply be about vegetables but rather about widening their palate and, of course, every celebration can include a veggie platter with a dip.
7. Make a Dip
Dips make food fun! The action of dipping is very enticing to children and offers a fun way to introduce new vegetables. My kids love hummus dip but other options include sour cream, salsa, or cream cheese.
8. Plant a Garden
When spring rolls around, plant a simple vegetable garden—it could even just be in a small pot. When your child takes part in sowing and tending to a garden, they not only learn a great lesson but will likely be enthusiastic about eating the vegetable as well.
Variety Is the Spice of Life!
While it might take more work on the part of the parent to encourage the child to eat their vegetables and develop a broader palate, in the end, this work will pay off. Not only will the child be open to trying new foods at home, but they will also be able to experience the varied culinary delights that the world has to offer.
I can proudly say that my picky eater will eat just about anything now. He truly enjoys a variety of food and fits right in with my other children at any meal. At times he still hesitates to try something new but with my calm encouragement, he will try a food that is outside of his comfort zone.
Broadening a child’s exposure to a variety of foods not only works to build a lifetime love of healthy foods but also broadens the child’s horizons for the varied wonders that life has to offer them as they grow.