Got a picky eater on your hands? Even if you're blessed with a child who loves veggie purees, spinach and tomatoes, as a parent, I know that kids' affinity for healthy foods can come and go. But I'm here to tell you: Stay strong and keep serving those healthy foods.
Research suggests that it takes 10 to 15 tries before a kid will actually eat—and like—a new food. How you serve healthy foods may factor in as well. A recent study showed that school-aged kids (7-10 years old) ate more carrots when they were served whole carrots versus when they were served diced carrots. One of the possible reasons may be that once kids started eating the whole carrot, they were likely to finish it, and so consumed more as a result. No more slicing veggies for the lunchbox? This news will be music to ears of busy parents everywhere.
So don’t give up on encouraging healthy eating habits in your kids. Here are five more tricks to try.
Recipe to try: Homemade Ranch Dressing with Veggies
Plenty of research shows that kids tend to model the eating habits of their parents. If you’re reaching for lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy, your kids will likely take them too. Luckily, my husband and I both have a love for healthy foods. If that’s not true for you, not to worry: as an adult, you absolutely can retrain your taste buds.
Recipe to try: Ground Beef & Pasta Skillet
Most nutrition experts say absolutely no food bribing, as it can lead to negative associations with food. I get it: When you tell your kid he can’t leave the table to play with a (fun) puzzle until he eats his peas, he’s not going to think fondly of peas. But at my house, negotiating has worked wonders. When I tell Jules that he cannot have any more dried apricots until he’s had four bites of his chicken or even that he cannot have a mini popsicle—which I emphasize is a treat—until he eats his pasta, he tends to eat more of the “good” stuff. He even seems to enjoy it. (Yes, I know not everyone agrees with me on this point.)
Recipe to try: Build-Your-Own Chicken Tacos
Kids like to feel they’re in control, so put out lots of healthy options and let them pick what they like best. We do this with healthy pizza toppings, tacos and “rice bowls” (brown rice with all sorts of healthy things as toppers—olives, tofu, avocado, shredded carrots, etc.).
Recipe to try: Barbecue Chicken Pizza
For example, if your child refuses vegetables, you can still sneak in the veggies. If he’s not into milk and you’re worried about his calcium intake, you might blend it—or yogurt—into a smoothie. (Try these kid-friendly smoothies ready in 5 minutes or less!) Of course, you don’t want to serve healthful ingredients only in hidden form. I used to serve (hidden) veggie quesadillas with steamed broccoli on the side. Jules would eat the quesadilla and leave the broccoli. Now he eats both.
Recipe to try: Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark
Picking out fruits and vegetables at the store and helping with CSA (community-supported agriculture) pick-ups seemed to help pique Julian’s interest in fresh, whole foods. And he started eating green beans in the summer when we made it his job every night to pick the “ready” ones out of the garden. Other good kitchen chores for little hands: washing and breaking up greens, grating cheese, stirring up things that aren’t hot, pressing the “go” button on the food processor, cutting soft foods—like strawberries—with a butter knife (supervised, of course).
My point: when it comes to helping your child to love new foods, you need to be persistent but not pushy. And remember that every kid is different—what works for one child may not work for another. Don't give up. Eventually, they’re likely to bite.