Everyone knows one and every parent hopes they don’t have one!  Picky eaters make eating a challenge and preparing meals frustrating.  Children can start forming food habits as early as 2-years-old, and this includes likes and dislikes.  These crucial early years are an important time to develop healthful foods habits.  As a mother of three children I know first hand the difficulties this can create and how quickly any dining experience can turn into a war zone.

For our family we found creativity and patience were the ingredients to success.  Below are a few of the strategies we have tried:

  1. Slow and steady wins the race.  Don’t overwhelm them by introducing all new foods in one meal.  Patience is as important as repetition.  If they decide they do not like it the first time, try again. Little tummies and taste buds need time figuring tastes and textures.
  2. Have them help shop for groceries. The more involved in the process from the beginning the more they want to try the foods placed in front of them. Have them pick out a new vegetable, fruit, or meat to try.
  3. Be careful what you say. Green vegetables are on the top of the “I hate” list.  Create associations for them by saying, “You like grapes and they are green, so don’t you think you may like green beans?”  Keep your words positive. Make sure you watch what you say and do. Kids emulate the people they look up to.
  4. Children love to play kitchen. Have them help out when preparing meals, by washing produce, measuring ingredients, and stirring.  If your child is older have them read the recipe to practice reading skills.
  5. Have them help set the table. Keep them busy while you prepare the meal, by setting the table. This will keep them out of trouble while you focus on not burning the food.
  6. Apply the “one bite rule”. This isn’t as scary as a heaping pile of a food they “think” they do not like and have to eat.  If they clean their plate they can always have more, but they must try everything.  This will avoid thirds of mac n cheese, while the beans are avoided.
  7. One meal for everyone. Avoid the trap of making a ‘special’ meal for each member of the family.  This is not only exhausting, but takes away quality time you could otherwise be spending with your kids. It also sets a precedent that is hard to break later on.

Creating healthy habits early will set them up for later on when they are adults.  Bad habits die hard and are always harder to break when you are an adult.  It is vital kids know where food comes from and eat a variety of foods. Good nutrition is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activity, a healthy diet can help maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk of chronic diseases (like heart disease and cancer), and promote overall health. Having your kids try new foods can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.  Remember to stay firm and be consistent!  You will find meals to be less hectic and more pleasurable.

–Melanie Dockter, DC CACCP