Yes, you CAN turn a picky eater into a foodie. Here’s how.
1. Remember that picky eaters are shaped, not born. It’s true that children are more sensitive to strong flavors than most adults, and that they tend to favor simple foods, but they are not biologically predisposed to reject healthy foods. We parents are the ones shaping their taste buds, and what we offer them has a big impact on what they will accept and reject. No child will like everything the first time, nor will they eat what you serve at every single meal. But what you buy, cook, and serve your family is ultimately what will impact how picky your children are, both now and in the future.
2. Provide a healthy “food environment.” In other words, don’t keep junk food in the house. Buy food you feel comfortable feeding your children, so when it’s time for a meal or snack they can have some power over what and how much to eat. If your child won’t eat the vegetable you plan to serve, have her choose another vegetable or fruit to have instead; if she doesn’t want fish tonight, ask her to pick a different protein, be it black beans, scrambled eggs, or cottage cheese. When you keep a variety of healthy foods in the house – some of which you know your children like – you can hand some of the control over to them, which will make everyone’s life easier.
3. Limit snacking. You know how good things taste when you’re really hungry? This is true for kids too. Getting your kids to eat a wide variety of foods is a lot easier when they arrive at the table hungry. If a child has been grazing all day on packaged snacks or even healthy foods, he is not likely to gobble down vegetables at dinner. Aim to offer three meals plus one afternoon snack (and a morning snack if your child is a toddler or especially hungry), and odds are what your children eat at mealtime will increase, even if they are picky.
4. Be consistent. Decide what your family food rules will be and then stick to them. If your child can leave his dinner untouched and then have a package of crackers an hour later, he’ll do it. So after you’ve taken your children’s tastes into account during the shopping, planning, and meal preparation, stick to your guns. He won’t starve himself. And over time, he will learn that eating at mealtime is a lot more enjoyable than feeling hungry all night. [Tip: when your child doesn’t eat his dinner, tell him you’ll save his plate in case he gets hungry later. That way, there will be no need to bargain and negotiate later about what food is available to eat.]
5. Keep it simple. Fresh, simple foods are usually much more appealing to picky eaters (and to kids in general) than mixed, cooked dishes. It’s also more likely that someone will like tomatoes if they try a cherry tomato in July, as opposed to a mealy yellow tomato slice during wintertime. So serve your kids straightforward, fresh food that allows them to taste things singly and explore foods one by one. And focus on what’s in-season, so you give them the opportunity to taste ripe fruits and vegetables with great flavor.