How do you encourage your family to try new foods? Read on for expert tips and recipe ideas to get picky eaters to try new foods.Jump to Recipe
The Challenge of Picky Eaters
New parents look forward to their babies turning into toddlers who eat with them at mealtimes. Yet, many parents quickly discover that they have a picky eater who won’t touch a vegetable. Others may eat a carrot but want to stick to the same foods all the time.
Picky eating is a challenge. The good news is that having a toddler that is hard to feed or who is reluctant to eat healthy foods is a problem that you can solve. Parents of picky toddlers do not have to stick to chicken nuggets and ice cream to ensure that their kid does not go hungry. By following some tips for healthy eating, your picky eater can learn how to eat different foods, age-appropriate, and nutrient-dense foods.
Why Kids Need to Expand Their Tastes
It might be tempting to take the easy route and feed picky eaters only their preferred foods. However, this is not a good idea for a number of reasons.
First, growing bodies need the right type of nutrition to grow. Studies show that quality nutrition in childhood helps combat diseases and encourages growth. Plus, if kids are only eating a diet of goldfish they won’t get the nutrients they need to grow up healthy. This could affect their height and development.
Second, kids need to build healthy habits early on. If kids refuse all veggies and continue this eating behavior for their entire lives, they could face a number of health issues as they age. Building good eating habits early is a skill that will last a lifetime.
Third, eating is very much a social activity. Even if you accommodate kids and provide their favorite food for family meals, as kids grow, they will eat more meals and snacks away from home. If kids are too restricted, they may face problems at a potluck or a friend’s dinner table when they enter elementary school and beyond.
Why Kids Are Picky Eaters
If your kid won’t touch a piece of broccoli or eat other vegetables, don’t worry. You are not alone. It is very common for children to be labeled as picky eaters and resist new foods. There is a developmental reason for this pickiness. Picky eaters are not just being difficult.
Most kids want to exercise their independence and their right to say no. Kids may also be physically developing in their chewing and swallowing skills, so some foods may be difficult to eat. Kids are also gaining an understanding of sweet, sour, and salty flavors, which are new to them. Some kids are also sensitive to some textures. None of this means that we should not encourage children to try new things. Hopefully, understanding why some kids are picky eaters will help you seek out the right tips to get your kid eating new foods for snacks and at the dinner table.
Expert Tips for Encouraging Healthy Eating in Picky Eaters
Allison Tsomos, Vice President of Operations at Celebree School, shares her tips on how to get a picky eater to turn into a toddler who eats healthy foods during mealtimes and when they are hungry.
1. Encourage Picky Eaters to Help Prepare the Food They Eat
One of the best ways to encourage kids to try new things is to ask them to help prepare the food they will eat. It’s never too early to start! A two-year-old can wash tomatoes and cucumbers and rip lettuce for a salad. Older preschoolers can spread butter on a tortilla or butter bread and build a cheese sandwich ready to be grilled by an adult.
Because texture is often an obstacle to trying new foods, you can introduce foods in a combination that kids create themselves. Start with something that includes your child’s food preferences. For instance, mangos are not a common food for most children, and neither is granola. However, yogurt is typically a child-friendly food. Try providing separate bowls of fruit such as mangos, a dish of granola, and a large container of yogurt.
Give your child a clear plastic cup and invite them to make a parfait. You go first and demonstrate how you want to layer yours and describe what you are doing. “I’m going to put some cold yogurt on the bottom, then sprinkle some crunchy granola, and then add some more yogurt. On the top, I am going to add some sweet mango chunks.”
Using describing words helps them know what to expect. Give them a spoon and dig in. The build-your-own concept works well for tacos with all the fixings and salads too. When children have choices and independence, we see a higher rate of acceptance. It’s no big deal if they want to arrange their food in a different way! Let them have fun and feel as though they have control over their snack or meal.
2. Bring Your Picky Kid Grocery Shopping
It’s a great idea to include your child in grocery shopping. Give them the weekly circular and ask them to circle things they want or would like to try. It’s okay to cross out certain foods ahead of time! Taking a trip to the grocery store together will take a bit longer. However, it will help children see things as viable and expected options. It’s also a great way to include your child in meal planning, explaining that every meal should include varied foods and healthy options.
3. Cook With Kids
Seeing broccoli go into the microwave in a frozen pouch is very different than a child choosing the head in the store, then washing it in their sink, trying it raw, and then again once it was steamed. Once a child has participated in making food, they have familiarized themselves with the texture, color, and smell of foods before tasting them, which makes the leap to eating a lot easier. You can even gain engagement and ideas by watching a child-friendly cooking YouTube together and getting child-size aprons and prep utensils.
Expanding from there becomes a game. Parents can ask children, “how many more green foods do you think we can try this week?” Then go shopping and do it!
4. Engage in Meal Planning With Your Picky Eaters
It is useful and fun to create a visual menu for the family. Whether that is a chalkboard, whiteboard, or just construction paper, children can cut out pictures and write the menu for the day to get involved.
Let’s not forget snack time either. Introducing different items in small doses and fun packaging is an easy way to get your child to eat healthy snacks. How about a bento snack box with colored pepper strips and hummus, even if your child starts with just a bite. You can ask your preschooler to make a pattern of the colors before eating them. Pretzel sticks and guacamole can be used to spell her name on a paper towel before consuming the snack. A baggie of sunflower seeds mixed with raisins will be both a tasty treat and encourage small motor skills to pick up the different size pieces.
5. Don’t Be a Trickster!
It’s important not to pressure children to eat. Offer plenty of food choices when feeding your child but understand that it may take a few tries to get your child to accept new foods. Consider even a small bite a step in the right direction away from picky eating. Moreover, never try to trick them into eating something. Astute picky eaters will discover peas you hid in mashed potatoes. This makes food aversions even worse for your eater. Moreover, your child will lose their trust in you, at least in the kitchen. Participation and fun is the best way to get our children to have a balanced diet.
Meal Ideas for Picky Eaters
Here are a few delicious ideas you can make with your picky eaters. Feel free to adjust ingredients to your family’s needs and dietary preferences.
Breakfast Mango Parfait
Layer 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt with pureed or chopped mango. To puree mango, simply blend two fresh or frozen mangos in a blender or food processor. Top with one to two tablespoons of granola. Start with a generous helping of yogurt if that is something your picky eater already likes. Then, introduce more mango and granola each time you have this treat for breakfast.
Breakfast Mango Parfait
- 1/2 cup mango
- 1/4 cup granola
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Breakfast Mango Parfait
- Puree or chop your mango. To puree mango, simply blend two fresh or frozen mangos in a blender or food processor.
- Layer 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt with mango. Top with one to two tablespoons of granola. Start with a generous helping of yogurt if that is something your picky eater already likes.
- Introduce more mango and granola each time you have this treat for breakfast.
Layer shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded Mexican cheese, and black or refried beans in a corn tortilla. Top with sour cream, chopped green onions, sliced olives, and mashed avocado. Make Taco Tuesday a weekly tradition. Each week encourage your child to try at least a bite of one new taco filling! This is a great meal for families with more than one picky eater since everyone can make their taco their own way.
Sauté one onion, one green pepper, and one clove of garlic in olive oil in a large pot. Add two cups of water, one box of macaroni, one can of white beans, one can of undrained diced tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon cumin, and one can of tomato sauce. Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until macaroni is tender.
Top with a dollop of sour cream. This recipe may appeal to picky eaters because so many kids already love noodles! If this recipe is too adventurous for your little one, omit the white beans and cumin the first time you make it. If your picky eater likes this meal, add one can of undrained mild chili beans the next time you make it for some added flavor and protein.
Pizza for Every Palate
Use store-bought crust and ask your child to help top it with a thin layer of pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. Have a variety of toppings, including olives, green peppers, sliced tomatoes, and chopped onions available for kids to choose from. Challenge your child to try as many toppings as possible, even if they only take a few bites. Since even the pickiest eater likes pizza, it’s the perfect medium to use to introduce some veggies and new flavors.
Making homemade sorbet is surprisingly easy—puree two cups of frozen fruit and 1/4 cup sugar in a high-speed blender or food processor. As an alternative, use a tablespoon or two of honey to taste or simple syrup. That’s it! Fruits that are naturally very sweet, like peaches, may not need any added sugar. Some prefer to freeze fresh fruit before pureeing. Roughly two pounds of fresh fruit will make about a quart of sorbet. Start with your picky eater’s favorite fruit, then ask your child which fruit they would like to try next. You can even experiment with mixing such as strawberry and banana or watermelon and mint.
What are your favorite ways to get your picky eaters to try new foods? Be sure to let us know on social #getfamilyapp or brainstorm new ideas with your loved ones on your favorite family app!