Out of my six kiddos, two of them have great tendencies towards being a picky eater. If it wasn’t for my determination to raise children who would eat all types of food (no matter how it looked or smelled), my 18 year old son would only be eating his Frosted Mini Wheats if they were presented all frosting side up. Seriously. Every single one of them in the bowl had to show the sugary white side! Geez….
I have received a lot of questions as a food blogger over the past 7 1/2 years and at least once a day someone asks how I get my children to actually EAT the food that is on my blog. I knew it was time to share my top secret recipe to raising children who will eat what is placed in front of them at dinner time.
As with all great parenting advice, the key is consistency. When your child knows you will give in to their demands or whining, they will keep at it until you do. Whatever changes you decide to make, just be consistent with them!
#1 – Start small – Now, this tip has two applications. The sooner you start exposing your young child to all different types of flavors, smells and appearances of food, the easier your life will be! We set ourself up for failure when we only feed our toddler Cheerios and bananas because “it is all they will eat.” Yes, your young child will have their preferences, but keep the variety going.
If you are already past the small child stage, don’t give up! Yes, your road will be a little rougher, but it is well worth your time and efforts. “Start small” with what new foods you are exposing your older child to. Don’t fill his dinner plate with all new foods all at once. Try one small change at a time and then try another the next night.
#2 – Use bribery – Before you go all ballistic on me, just hear me out first. When I am making a recipe that I know is not a favorite with my kids, I will usually pair it with something I know they love. Often, that comes in the form of some homemade bread or rolls, and even a yummy dessert as a special treat. Now, this is where it might get a little tough, but hang in there! If your child would like another piece of bread or some dessert, they need to eat what is on their plate first. You need to be considerate of their dislike for a new food and plate a small portion for them to eat. I’m not asking you to be mean and overbearing, but I am asking you to be firm. If they don’t eat it, no worries…but don’t you dare cave in to that second piece of bread or dessert.
When children have a reward system of some type in place, they often respond in a positive way. They are willing to eat the unwanted food in exchange for more of their favorite food.
#3 – Accept failure- If you know from the get-go that this will blow up in your face at least a handful of times, you will be better prepared for when it does. Depending on the child, you might have quite a fit on your hands, or someone who flat out refuses to eat at all for that meal. Again, you are cool as a cucumber and no worries! Your child will not die if they do not eat what you have prepared, but they will be hungry so be sure they understand that there is nothing else to eat until your next meal time. If you child knows that 30 minutes after dinner he can open the box of Goldfish crackers and stuff himself, he has no incentive to eat the meal you have prepared for him. Stick to your plan and when they really get hungry, be willing to pull out the leftovers and reheat them for him to eat.
The reality is, your child will not like many food you place before them, but their taste buds can be trained to like new and unusual flavors so don’t give up! Just keep having them take a few bites of something new and over time, that once despised food becomes not such a big deal any more.
#4 – Be the example – I think this should go without saying, but come on parents….if you want your child to eat broccoli without complaining, then you too need to be eating broccoli without complaining. In fact, when something is on the table that tends to bring out those picky tendencies in your child, it is time to put on your best performance on their behalf. Really talk up how delicious, yummy, crunchy, smooth, tasty, or zesty this food really is. Kids want to emulate everything their parents do, including what and how they eat. You should even be honest with comments such as, “Thank you for trying the broccoli! It took me awhile to really start to like it as well, so keep on giving it a try!”
#5 – Put your foot down – Please remember that you are not a line cook. What you made for dinner, or lunch or breakfast is what there is to eat. Your kitchen is not a restaurant and your child needs to understand that there are no other options besides what has been lovingly prepared for them. If this is not your current policy, be ready for a battle but stick to your guns! Again, your child will not starve and watch what happens when your child is truly hungry. How quickly they become much more grateful for whatever is placed before them. They are just hungry and want food!
#6 – Watch the timing of snacks – If you haven’t noticed already, one of the key factors in raising a good eater is having a hungry child at meal time. If she filled up on grapes 30 minutes before dinner, she has no physical incentive to eat the food you have prepared. You don’t want them starving but you do want them hungry! I suggest stopping snacks one hour before the meal, but you need to find what works best with your child.
So, that is my secret sauce to raising 6 kids who are pretty awesome when it comes to trying and enjoying new foods. I would LOVE to hear from you! What works for you in getting your child to be brave when it comes to a culinary experience?
Paulanne Chelf says
I think this is a “pick your battles” issue. I insisted that both kids try whatever the cook that night prepared for them. If they did so, and didn’t like it, they were allowed to make themselves PB&J. If they refused to try, that option was not available to them. I also encouraged them to let the cook (me or my husband) know when they really liked something, and then get them involved in preparing that the next time it appeared.
Thanks so much Paulanne for your great advice. Love these ideas! -Carole
Mary Holmes says
My son is 2 1/2 and we do just about everything you outline above. He eats the same foods we have for dinner and has since he was able to eat solid food. We still struggle with veggies but he has to eat some before we allow him more meat or starch. Some days are better than others, but for the most part he eats what I put in front of him. Even at 2 1/2 he knows that he doesn’t get anything else after he says hes done.
That is awesome for 2 1/2 Mary. Your little guy is lucky to have parents who are consistent! -Carole
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