Raising healthy eaters is especially challenging when you’re up against picky eating. While we don’t have the powers to cure picky eating overnight, we’ve come up with 3 must-do’s for every parent hoping to help their kids embrace healthier foods.
3 Tips for Managing Picky Eating
Get 3 ways to manage picky eating and make healthy eating a fun activity for you and your children.
3 Tips for Managing Picky Eating
Tip #1: Persistently introduce and expose your kids to the foods you know are healthy for them, even when you’re faced with, “No’s!” and reactions of, “That’s yucky!”
Let’s face it – it’s not just kids that don’t like new things. We adults often don’t like being forced to try new things either. It’s uncomfortable, but we all know the more we try that new thing, the less scary and foreign it seems, and that’s when we can actually make an informed decision about whether we like it or not.
The same philosophy goes for kids and new foods. Don’t give up if your kid doesn’t love his / her first encounter with broccoli. Studies show that it can take a child anywhere between 7 to 20 exposures to a certain ingredient before she starts to feel familiar with that food. While that sounds like a lot of work for you, we’ve created a tool to make it much less overwhelming or stressful.
Our Veggie Discovery Table helps you track your child’s encounters with different vegetables. Every time they are exposed to a vegetable on this list, they can put in a sticker in the box. If they didn’t like it, they can put a red sticker; if they liked it so-so, they get to put a yellow sticker; and if they loved it, they get to put a green sticker. (Get the stickers here.) The goal, of course, is for all of these vegetables to become mostly green, and each dot helps you keep track of the number of times they’ve been exposed to that vegetable.
This tool makes dinner an interactive process where kids really feel like their input is valued, captured, and noted! You can print one off for each child, laminate at a Kinko’s if you want, and hang on the fridge or keep in a binder for easy access at every meal.
Alternatively, you can actually use this chart to manage the food preferences of your entire family. This also might help you look for recipes and find meals that hopefully everyone will be ecstatic about!
Veggie Discovery Table
Let your kids keep track of all the different veggies they eat with this fun chart.
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Tip #2: Take a page from Mary Poppins and use a spoonful of whatever tastes good to your kids to help the healthy vegetable medicine go down.
Kids not only have more taste buds than adults, they also have a more acute sense of taste. Since a lot of vegetables just have a slight bitterness to them, it might mean your kids are tasting a more pronounced bitterness that we would sense. And human evolution has trained us to avoid bitter things, because back in caveman days, it might mean that something was poisonous.
We all know that vegetables are the opposite of poisonous and probably some of the best preventative medicine we could all use. So to borrow a concept from Mary Poppins, toss your roasted veggies with just a sprinkle of brown sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup. Other things that might work are a vinaigrette, some yogurt or butter, a little lemon juice, a tomato sauce, or even ketchup. These will help make veggies much more palatable to kids and make it easier for them to try new things.
For some this will be a relatively short process. For others, it might take a bit longer. You can do everything right and create an environment to promote healthy eating but some kids just naturally fall at the extreme ends of the food preferences spectrum.
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Tip #3: Parents are responsible for the ‘what, when, and where’ of feeding, while children are responsible for the ‘how much’ and ‘whether’ of eating.
Ellyn Satter is the registered dietician and family therapist who pioneered this concept of ‘Division of Responsibility’ – parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding; children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating. In other words, parents provide healthy food options at structured meal and snack times, and it’s up to the child to decide whether he / she will eat it and how much they’ll eat.
If the kids don’t eat anything, they’ll have to wait until the next designated meal time. This concept sounds simple, but I know it can be really challenging to implement and stick to, because no parent wants to see their kids go hungry, but your child is in touch with his / her appetite. If your kid eats less during one meal, they will likely eat more at their next designated mealtime, and start to get used to a regular schedule of eating (vs. an irregular, emotion-driven schedule of snacking).
This takes away all the negotiation and bribery, which actually provides the foundation for kids to develop a better relationship with food. Plus, adopting this philosophy removes the guilt that so many parents feel. If you provide healthy options at regular, scheduled times, you’re living up to your responsibility and doing your part to fight the good fight. Keep it up – we’re so impressed!
Karen LeBillon, who we got to interview about her book ‘Getting to Yum’, also provides some great ideas about making this structure work for your family. She actually adds one thing to Satter’s division of responsibility rules, which is that your kids don’t have to eat the foods that they don’t like, but they have to at least taste it, which means, that it counts as an exposure and they get to put a sticker on their Veggie Discovery Table.