Anyone else feel like mealtimes are losing battles at your house? Some days it requires all the patience I have, leaving what feels like none for the rest of the day. My one-year-old thinks it’s fun to throw food on the ground and he literally gags to the point of throwing up if he doesn’t like a food. Yes, gags. Is that normal?! And, unless French fries are a vegetable, we’re not doing so well in the veggie department either. Me, a health coach. Me, a health and fitness nut. These sorts of things don’t happen to me. My kids were going to love all their fruits and vegetables because they know what’s good for them! Let me eat that humble pie and let you all know that I’m right there in the trenches with you. MEAL TIME IS HARD. There, I said it. Getting your kids to eat, let alone eat nutritiously, is hard work. But, there are methods. Methods that work.
They say sometimes kids have to be exposed to new foods 15, 20, or even more times before they start to like it. Kids can be tough little buggers when it comes to eating.
So, what’s a mom to do about this?
Just as our tastes develop over time, our kids’ will do the same. But, for many of us, it will take a lot of patience, hard work, and persistence. The following 6 steps will help you start getting your kids more interested in expanding their palates.
6 steps to getting your kids to eat
1. Be a good role model
a. You are their best example. If you won’t eat it, you better believe they won’t!
2. Make meal time a positive experience
a. If your child won’t eat a particular food, provide another similar option or let them try the food in a different way (such as dipped in a sauce). When dinner becomes a hostile situation, kids will fight back even more. It’s so hard when all you want them to do is JUST TRY IT for crying out loud. Take a few deep breaths, look for opportunities to negotiate, and if they aren’t interested, try tomorrow.
3. Offer variety
a. If kids get to choose what ingredients to include or what fruit/vegetable they will have that night, they will be more likely to clean their plate. Let them pick their toppings, their seasonings, their dips, etc.
4. Sneak the healthy stuff
a. There are lots of ways to sneak in the healthy stuff into foods kids already love! Pasta sauces with pureed vegetables, smoothies with spinach, or healthy dipping sauces just to name a few.
a. Teach children what food can do for them. Explain sources of protein and what protein does for our bodies. Teach them in their language. Let them know that eating the good stuff gives them energy to run, jump, and play all day long.
6. Get them involved
a. Kids are more likely to eat a dish if they played a role in making it. They often have a sense of ownership over their dish and might even convince any other hesitant children to at least take a bite. The more involved your kids can be, the more likely they are to be open to trying new things. Let them pick foods at the grocery store, be in charge of pouring, stirring, cutting (if old enough), cooking, seasoning, or anything else they like to do.
How do we help involve kids in mealtime? Even though there may be some initial hesitation, the truth is, kids like to take ownership over jobs they’ve done. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride. No matter what age your kids are there are many ways for them to help in the kitchen. Assign children to the following jobs by having them draw Popsicle sticks (can get at any craft store, or maybe your local pediatricians office) for each task needed for the menu. Making it a fun game where they draw new jobs each time brings excitement and helps them practice new skills.
Meal prep tasks for kids:
1. Get out all pots, pans, spoons, or other utensils needed to make the dish
2. Get out all food ingredients & seasonings to make the dish
3. Be in charge of cutting, chopping, dicing, etc (for an older kid or mom)
4. Be in charge of pouring the ingredients
5. Be in charge of stirring all ingredients
6. Set the table
Older children can pick 2-3 jobs while younger children help with one.
Now remember, following these methods don’t just magically change your childrens’ taste buds. It takes time. The key is to take a systematic approach. The general rule is this: Always make sure your child’s meal has at least one food item they already like on their plate. Then slowly incorporate 1-2 new food items each time. Sometimes it takes a lot of practice and patience before kids come around.
Remember, I'm in the trenches with you! I'm learning every day (and some days are so different) what works for my family. Try out these methods. They work for lots of moms. And if you find anything else that works for your family, please share so we can spread the wealth!