Katie Serbinski MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian and Millennial Mom blogger, writing about all things family and food related: healthy recipes, maternal and child health, and musings about motherhood at MomToMomNutrition.com. Katie resides in Metro Detroit with her husband and two young sons.
Katie says, “’My child won’t eat X because of the color.’ ‘My child won’t eat Y because it’s touching Z on his plate.’ ‘Mealtime is the most stressful part of the day for my family.’ Does this sound familiar? As a mother and registered dietitian, I can assure you, you are not alone. These statements can be heard in most households where one or two picky eaters reside. In fact, picky eating is a very common behavior in children, often seen from the toddler years through high school! Chalk it up to another step in the process of children growing up and becoming independent.
“As a parent, you want your kids to eat a variety a foods for good reasons: it may lead to nutritious eating habits for them and stress-free cooking for you. So what’s a parent to do when you want your picky eater to try new foods? Here are my five full-proof strategies.”
“It often takes up to a dozen times for a child to accept new foods. Try to limit offering a reward or praise for your child to try the new food. We want kids to choose foods because they like the taste and they are hungry, not because they are going to be rewarded with ice cream after dinner if they eat their broccoli.”
“Children are more likely to try a new food if it’s served with something they already enjoy eating. For instance, if your child loves pizza, make a build your own pizza bar with extra vegetable toppings for them to choose from.”
“Take your kids to the grocery store [when you aren’t pressed for time] and get them involved in the picking and choosing of different foods. When you get home, have them help you prepare a new recipe or food— better yet, have them help you name or create a whole new recipe from scratch!”
“The best way to teach your child to enjoy healthy foods is to enjoy them yourself. Practice what you preach – and don’t feel bad if you dislike peas and never serve them for dinner. I grew up in a home where my mother despised bananas. I don’t think I ate my first one until college. Now they are on my regular grocery list.”
“If your child doesn’t like their food touching, serve new foods on plates that have sections or compartments. If your child likes dips such as ranch or BBQ sauce, serve it alongside the new food, even if you think it’s a weird combination. Or swap out the ranch for hummus or bean spreads. Don’t let this tip make you into a short-order chef though. This is only if you have their favorite dips and spreads on hand!”
Smoothies: Blend fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables with yogurt and milk or juice.
English Muffin Pizzas: Top half an English muffin with tomato sauce, chopped vegetables, and mozzarella cheese. Heat until the cheese is melted.
Finger Sandwiches: Use cookie cutters to jazz up any sandwich; try adding apple or tomato slices to a grilled cheese before cooking.
Katie says, “In the end, you need to do what works for your family. I encourage you to cut yourself some slack, as dealing with picky eating is stressful. You have the control on what you are serving your child, but ultimately need to leave it up to the child whether or not they will try and eat it. Easier said than done, I know. But if your child is growing normally and has plenty of energy, he or she is most likely getting the nutrients they need each day.”