Don't Give Up: 5 Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat Everything

By: Nicci Micco, M.S.  |  EatingWell.com

Mom and her daughter cooking in the kitchen

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.

Related: 25 Vegetable Side Dish Ideas Kids Will Actually Like

1. Be a Good Role Model

Homemade Ranch Dressing with Veggies

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.

Related: 9 “Bad” Foods You Can Feel Good About Eating

2. Keep It Positive

Ground Beef & Pasta Skillet

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.)

Related: 30 Healthy Kid-Friendly Dinner Ideas They'll Be Begging You to Make

3. Offer a Variety

Build-Your-Own Chicken Tacos

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.).

4. Be Stealthy with Healthy Ingredients

Barbecue Chicken Pizza

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.

5. Get the Kids Involved

Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark

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).

Related: This Prep-Ahead Lunch Station Helps Kids Pack Their Own

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.

Watch: How to Make Hasselback Zucchini “Pizzas”

 

Related: 8 Ways to Keep Your Kid’s Diet Balanced