Kids have very active imaginations. They also love games and playing make believe. Broccoli may not be high on many children’s food lists but if he/she was a dinosaur who needs to eat five miniature trees in order to grow into a tyrannosaurus rex, suddenly Broccoli may look a whole lot more appealing. Relating healthy food to fun things the child already loves and turning it into a game is a great way to get a few bites of greens down the hatch.
Get them involved
Children are more invested in a meal if they help with its preparation. Take your kids to the supermarket and get them to help identify and choose what goes into certain meals. Letting them pick one or two things to cook for dinner will only make them far more excited to eat it later. They can also be great little helpers with chopping/peeling/cooking or serving. Letting them clean carrots, snap beans, mix the dressing and set the table gives them a sense of pride and makes them more enthusiastic and cooperative at meal time.
The “one bite rule”
Research consistently shows that children who have initially rejected a food must be exposed to it several more times for the food to be accepted, even up to 7-8 times. If parents enforce a “one bite rule” the child will become more familiar to the food and usually they will begin to become more open to eating it.
Reward Good Behaviour
Eating time should be a positive experience. By creating a positive environment during meal time you are more likely to decrease picky eating tendencies. Reward can be a great way for children to associate a happy relationship with food they may not initially enjoy. For example rewarding them with play time with mum or dad or something they really enjoy like an extra bed time book or some stickers can be a great option.
They don’t have to lick that plate clean
Enforcing a one bite rule is very different from having kids finish everything on their plate. By forcing children with raised voices or threats of punishment to finish eating something they don’t enjoy is more likely to create a negative meal experience and a negative association with that given food. Stick to the one bite rule offering praise and encouragement and potential reward if required.
Think like a child would
Young children see the world very differently from an adult. So reminding and trying to explain to them that certain foods are unhealthy and is bad for them will have little effect. Children are not concerned with health issues as generally it is something they have not dealt with. One thing that all kids have in common is they want to be bigger! We all wanted to be like the big kid, remember? So play on that and explain to them that vegetables will help them grow and become stronger like mum or dad or perhaps like one of their idols or super heroes.
Arrange food in patterns on the plate
Another reason to cook different vegetables separately is that children love when their food is designed into patterns on their plate. Unlike adults, who prefer foods clumped near each other in the center of the plate, kids like their food separated into piles around the perimeter. If you shape it into a heart or smiley face, they’ll like it even more. This is another way to make food fun.
Use flavours they know
There’s nothing wrong with adding additional flavors to vegetables to make them more appealing to children. For a picky child, the most important thing is that he/she gets comfortable and familiar with the food they chose to reject. So if that means serving it along side or complimenting it with something you know they will enjoy, like a little bit of cheese, bacon, or tomato sauce, that’s fine. It will only encourage them to eat the rejected food in the long run and help promote a positive eating experience.
Keep at it
Some children will be more difficult than others, and will require more effort and patience. It’s important to realize, however, that the habits they develop at a young age will remain with them long into adulthood. For your sake and theirs, it is worth solving picky eating problems as soon as possible. Continue to set a good example, create fun, positive experiences around food, let them help in the kitchen, enforce the one bite rule and do anything else you can to keep exposing them, in a pleasant way, to the healthy foods they reject. Your persistence will pay off.
Be a role model for your kids.
As we know kids are sponges they soak up everything that goes on in their surrounding environment sometimes to a parent’s surprise! So set an example, be seen to be active, choose healthy snacks and drinks for yourselves, don’t skip meals and eat at the table as a family. Also be seen yourself eating a variety of fruits and vegetables as this will help create interest.