If you’re wondering how to get your kiddo to eat carrots, celery, and apples as often as they ask for cookies, candy, and crackers, you aren’t alone. Kids are notoriously picky eaters and parent frustration can build up, leading to mealtime battles. Picky eating is a challenge for many families. However, a couple of habit swaps can have everybody enjoying the whole meal, veggies included!
Stop the reward system
Many of us grew up in households where dessert was a “treat” and only “earned” after we finished our whole plate. This method of getting veggies into your little one's belly can backfire. By putting sweet foods on a pedestal as a “treat”, we give it power. The treat becomes idolized and practically all your picky eater can think about. Try serving a smaller portion of dessert with the meal. If you’re packing healthy foods in your kids lunchbox, include a small sweet treat routinely so that the healthy food and sweet food are on a level playing field. Your child can eat the ice cream, M&Ms, or cookie first and then move onto the rest of the plate. Just keep the portion small so they don’t get full.
Don’t force it
If your child finishes their sweet item first, don’t push the veggies, protein, or whatever else you may be desperate for them to eat. Let them explore the plate on their own terms. This can feel painful for a parent who just wants to say “Eat the green beans!” but by letting your child choose the order of the foods they eat, you are giving them a sense of autonomy and control they desire. They may not eat the new food or the green vegetable, but it’s still a source of exposure to healthy foods. Research consistently shows, exposure to healthy foods make kids more likely to choose them in the future. They may eat it in an order that is not your style, but don’t sweat it and like Elsa said “let it go”.
Kid friendly recipes
Try new (or old) foods in a fun way. Creative ideas for picky eaters can go a long way when introducing healthy foods for kids. Recipes for picky kids can be as simple as making an old recipe in a new shape or using a different bowl. Try making meatloaf muffins in the shape of cupcakes with mashed potato “frosting”. Try daisy shaped ravioli. Use pureed beets to make foods pink. Kids meals for picky eaters don’t have to be bland or boring, you can try foods like pizza pockets and broccoli, or alphabet soup with veggies floating amongst the ABC noodles. Fun food doesn’t have to be junk food. It can still be nutritious and delicious!
Trust their instincts
From birth, kids can self-regulate feeding. This means they listen to their body and stop when they are truly full. Somedays this means they’ll eat a ton and other days they may eat barely anything. It’s only when adults start to pressure kids into eating “one more bite” or “no dessert unless you finish” that kids stop listening to their bodies and learn to overeat to please grownups. Encourage your child to listen to their body to determine fullness and develop a healthy relationship with healthy foods.
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