Gentle Ways to Deal with Picky Eaters

By Sher Warkentin in Healthy Feeling

Having grown up a selective eater myself, I knew the challenges that awaited me when I realized I had passed it onto my daughter. She was clearly going to be finicky when it came to food. Now seven, she’s come a long way from the two-year-old who would eat a rotation of ten different foods. Here are a few of the best things I’ve learned along the way about how to deal with picky eaters.

Dress It Up

One of the frustrating parts of parenting picky eaters is feeling like your kids aren’t getting enough nutrition. Even the most adventurous kids have been known to turn down healthy staples like leafy greens, broccoli, and fish. That’s where creativity helps. You don’t have to hide ingredients to get kids to eat them. Although it works to a certain extent, it doesn’t ultimately get kids to learn how to eat healthy.

The better option is to prepare foods in a way that entices kids to eat them. With just a little prep time, you can transform spinach into a pasta-lovers sauce or broccoli into dippable, kid-friendly nuggets. If your picky eater doesn’t like a particular food in one form, don’t give up. Just look for alternative ways to prepare it or recipes that include it.

The Power of Choice

Like with many parenting struggles, giving kids some power over their own actions goes a long way to working through disagreements. Offer kids a choice between two different healthy options, for example. This works well with kids whose picky tendencies stem more from a power struggle than sensitivity to certain tastes.

Another great way to give kids more power is by involving them in the cooking process. Let them help you choose nutritious recipes and prepare their ingredients. Designing the meal themselves makes them much more apt to actually eat it. One way I get my daughter excited about new healthy dinner ideas is by trying samples when we go grocery shopping. If she gives the sample a thumbs up, we buy the ingredients to recreate it together at home.

Empower picky eaters to make their own nutritional choices.

Keep Trying

Many young kids take a while to become accustomed to new foods. Just because they refuse or dislike it once or twice doesn’t mean it’ll always be the case. Be patient, and offer the same food a few different times to give your child a chance to get used to it. Don’t force it, and if they refuse to eat it, give it some time before you try again.

Grow Your Own Food

Since around the age of three, the only strawberries my daughter would eat were freeze-dried. No matter how much I tried to convince her that fresh strawberries were much tastier, she refused to even try them—that is, until we started growing them in our backyard. After helping to plant and water the strawberry seedlings, she was overjoyed when the first strawberry popped out, and quickly gobbled it up. Having your kids help you grow your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to entice fussy eaters into trying something nutritious.

Growing fruits and vegetables in your garden is a great way to encourage picky eaters to try new things.

Start Young

The younger you introduce different flavors and textures, the easier it’ll be to expand your child’s palate as he or she grows. Spice up bland baby foods by adding ingredients to create pureed curries and thin soups that are still easy to eat but full of flavor. As your baby grows into a toddler, use those flavorful purees to transition to solids by using them as sauces for soft pastas and rice.

Feed young kids flavorful foods early on to expand their palates.

Every child is different, though, and some will end up being picky no matter how much carefully crafted, gourmet baby food you feed them. The best thing you can do is stay patient and positive. I personally avoid using the phrase “picky eater,” especially around my daughter, because it can carry a negative connotation. Give your kids time and support, and eventually they will surprise you as they start to broaden their palates.

Do you have a picky eater? Tweet us your best tactics.

Image sources: Flickr | Sher Warkentin

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

If you're raising picky eaters, it's easy to stress over whether your kids are getting enough nutrition. Instead of sneaking in healthy ingredients or forcing them to eat something they don't want, keep things positive and fun with these simple tips. You'll set your child up for a lifetime of healthy eating choices.