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10 Tips for Dealing With Picky Eaters

Like most parents, I had a ton of ideas about what kind of parent I would be – before I had kids. My kids wouldn’t watch too much TV, I would never yell, they would never throw tantrums in public … you know, a totally reasonable set of expectations!

Yeah, right.

When you actually become a parent you understand exactly why most kids who can’t recite their own address know the Dora theme song by heart and why sometimes a mother continues rolling her red cart through Target, even though her child is screaming and knocking things off the shelves. In my opinion, there is only one steadfast parenting rule: Do what you gotta do.

One of the many battles that a lot of parents face every day is about food. When I set freshly steamed broccoli in front of my kids they act like I’m asking them to eat dirt. A delicious, nutrition-packed smoothie? Might as well pour some sour milk in their cup for all they’re going to drink it.

Kids are picky and they’re masters at holding out, refusing to put anything “offensive” in their body until exhausted parents give in and warm up some chicken nuggets.

Sound too familiar? If so, try these 10 tips for dealing with your picky eater:

  1. Kids will eat when they’re hungry.

This is my tried and true motto when it comes to feeding my kids. Once kids hit an age where they can understand a bit of reason (it seemed to work with my kids around two), they can understand that mom and/or dad have made dinner and that’s what’s available. They eat that or they eat nothing. Shockingly, my kids always, eventually, chose to eat. P.S. Kids won’t starve if they skip a meal.

  1. Don’t make it a battle.

This is easy to say, but hard to do. I get so frustrated when my kids fight me about food – I’m trying to feed them! And take care of them! I must be the worst mother ever! Why can’t they just eat? But constantly making food a battle frustrates everyone and will make the power struggle worse. Frankly, in my opinion, the bottom line is that the kids aren’t in charge. It’s my job to feed them, whether they like it or not, so like I said above, they’ll eat eventually.

  1. Sometimes they’re just not hungry.

When my kids are going through a growth spurt, it amazes me the amount of food they can put away in their little bodies – thirty minutes after the last meal, they’re asking for more. But other times, they’re just not all that hungry. That’s okay. Just make sure they’re eating something and enjoy the stocked fridge while it lasts!

  1. Offer it more than once.

Kids are stubborn, but they can also be easily overwhelmed by change. Just because they reject a food the first time doesn’t mean they won’t eventually come around. It can take 7-15 times for a child to try a new food before they’ll accept it.

  1. Pick “fun” foods.

My kids love edamame, mostly because they think it’s hilarious to try to shoot the soybeans out of the pod across the kitchen – or at each other. But they do eventually eat them, too. You can also cut food into fun shapes, or offer foods with dip, like carrots with hummus.

  1. Let them help.

Kids love to help! Get them involved with meal planning and grocery shopping. You can even pick family-friendly recipes that kids can help you make. Giving them some ownership over the meal will make them excited about eating it.

  1. Get the timing right.

It sounds obvious, but kids will eat better and be more likely to try new things when they’re hungrier. If kids are snacking in the two hours before meals, they’re just not going to be that hungry.

  1. Improve the old favorites.

Tacos are a pretty well-accepted staple in our house, so I was shocked when I decided to try an enchilada bake recipe that was full of quinoa and they gobbled it up. Confession – I told them it was a “super taco dinner.” Take foods your kids already love and start spinning them, however gradually, into a healthier version. Replace white rice with brown, ground beef with turkey, etc.

  1. Don’t forget dessert.

Dessert is, after all, the best part of any meal. But parents should set clear expectations. Kids will get dessert when they eat an appropriate amount of the offered meal. Period. Dessert also shouldn’t always be cookies or cake. Offer fresh fruit or healthy baked goods like zucchini bread.

  1. Set a good example.

The best way to encourage healthy eating is to model it. When your kids see you eating healthy foods and you share your excitement about trying new foods, they’ll be more likely to eat healthfully and try new foods.

For more tips, check out our Pinterest board, Picky Eaters.

What’s your best strategy for combating a picky eater?

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