Do you feel overwhelmed by constantly trying to get your picky eater to eat healthy? It can feel like a losing battle and its a topic we discuss all the time at The Dinner Daily. My kids can be picky too (in fact Nancy is our resident expert on dealing with a picky eater!) and I also get the occasional groan at the dinner table, usually from my middle son, about what is for dinner. However, over years of trial and error (my youngest is now 12 and my oldest is 17…hard to even type that!) and insisting my kids eat healthy meals, I believe what has helped me help my kid eventually become good and somewhat consistent eaters is this:
1. Be Persistent & Consistent (and use the 14 Times Rule!): I think this is one of the most important things to remember. It won’t happen overnight and it may take a number of weeks, maybe months. Getting your kids to be more open to new tastes is a process and just like teaching them other skills like riding a bike or good bedtime routines, it takes time and practice. Kids will often resist a new food the first time they taste it and may need to try it more than once before their taste buds will adapt. There is something often referred to by dietitians and pediatricians called “The 14 Times Rule”. Simply stated, kids might need to try a new food/taste/texture up to 14 times before they will eat it. How many of us have given up WAY before 14 times?
When my kids were little I would give up after only a few times (“Looks like he is not going to be a fruit eater” or “I guess he does not like broccoli”). Sound familiar? After my pediatrician encouraged me to just keep putting the food on their plates over and over again (ie up to 14 times) I found success! Foods that I thought were never going to be on the rotation were suddenly disappearing off the plates. It might not work on every food, but the point is to not give up so quickly to th! point you are left with a very limited variety of foods….now that IS frustrating as any parent of an older picky eater will tell you! If your kids are still at the toddler stage, no better time to try this tactic than now as their taste buds are still forming and you can mold their eating habits for life!
2. Only Offer Healthy Real Food: Like adults, kids will most likely forget about the unhealthy processed stuff out of the box eventually once its gone from their diet. I am not saying no occassional snacks or treats but reserve the dinner table for healthy food only. If kids think we will go get the blue box out of the cupboard when the push back the healthy plate of food, guess what they will do? So I would not tempt myself during those trying dinner times, I would just make sure I did not have those options in my house.
3. Talk about Why Healthy Food Matters: I think letting your kids understand why eating good food is important to you and their health goes a long way, rather than “just because”. Our boys love to play hockey (now and when they were little), so we relate the quality of their meals to their performance on the ice. Fill your body up with processed junk and you won’t be able to skate fast or score a goal.
One of my own, somewhat silly strategies, was to tell them their bodies would be SO SO happy and smiling inside if they ate this healthy dinner etc etc. I would embellish that a bit (I won’t repeat my whole script as its a bit embarrassing) but I would make such a big deal of it that they would be giggling and usually due to my silliness would be willing to try it. The point is you might find trying to express the importance of it in a way that your kids will relate to in a non serious not so ‘parenting’ way might make your kids more open to new tastes.
I should end by saying I am not intending to over simplify how frustrating having a picky eater can be. Nancy is our resident expert on this frustration as she has had years of experience dealing with this battle. But I also think she will agree that once you change your mindset and use some of these tips, you will see improvement. And all those little improvements can add up to big improvements in the eating healthy department. Helping your kids eat well is definitely a lifetime skill we all want them to have.
Looking for some ideas for dinner for your picky eater? We will be posting some simple and easy recipes specifically for the toddler crowd over the next few weeks. If you want to know when these recipes are posted just LIKE US on our Facebook page as we will be posting the links to the recipes there.