How do I get my child to eat?
If you’re having trouble getting your child to eat, you’re not alone. Many parents have picky eaters on their hands. In addition to making mealtimes more difficult, it’s also natural to wonder whether or not your child is getting the right amount of nutrition for proper growth and development. The good news is that, while most children are picky eaters, there are things parents can do to help make healthy meals more appealing for kids. Here are five tried and true tips for getting kids interested in nutrition.
1. Create Colorful Meals to Entice Kids to Eat
Kids tend to respond more positively to healthy and nutritious meals if they are colorful and visually appealing, so try to incorporate as many colorful items as you can into mealtimes. A couple of ways to offer more color in meals include:
Select Colorful Fruits and Veggies to Choose From
Kids who are picky eaters may also be struggling with eating healthy options if they feel a lack of control over what they’re able to eat. Creating a selection of healthy and colorful foods for your little one to choose from provides you with the opportunity to place healthy options in front of them while allowing them to still have an opportunity to choose which appeal to them.
If your child is a picky eater who also has strong feelings about various textures, a smoothie bowl is one way to help provide a colorful and nutritious option. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, bananas, plums, pineapple, and other delicious fruits and veggies can create colorful smoothie bowls with plenty of nutritional value. One to two servings of fruit is ideal for a smoothie bowl, since you don’t want to outweigh the nutritional benefits with too much sugar.
Experiment with Unique and Colorful Foods
In addition to the typical fruits and veggies American adults are familiar with such as apples, oranges, grapes, berries, bananas, and a handful of others, there is a world of exciting, interesting, and delicious fruits and veggies waiting to be explored. If you have access to a grocer who offers unique food items from around the world, take advantage of the many unique and colorful items, including:
Purple cauliflower is one of the most vibrant veggies you’ll find in your local grocery store. Purple cauliflower has a similar texture to it’s white counterpart, but unlike traditional cauliflower most Americans are used to seeing, purple cauliflower has a slightly sweeter, milder taste which may appeal to picky eaters of all ages.
Like purple cauliflower, orange cauliflower is slightly sweeter than white cauliflower. It’s texture is also softer than traditional cauliflower. Known as “cheddar cauliflower” or “cheese cauliflower,” orange cauliflower can be blended as a healthier alternative to mashed potatoes and also works well in casseroles to provide consistency without the added calories of packaged soups or dairy products.
Dragon fruit is a unique and exotic fruit which can sometimes be found in your local grocery store but is almost always available at international supermarkets where Asian and Hispanic foods are sold. Don’t let the bright pink outer shell of dragon fruit intimidate you. Dragon fruit is a mild yet sweet fruit with a soft texture that may appeal to picky eaters.
Purple Sweet Potatoes
Picky eaters who enjoy color and soft textures may also enjoy mashed purple sweet potatoes which make a great alternative to packaged mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese. Purple sweet potatoes are not uncommon in most U.S. grocery stores, but they are typically available at international supermarkets.
2. Disguise Delicious Nutrients for Picky Eaters
Just like adults, kids need variety. One of the many reasons picky eaters tend to shy away from healthy foods is that healthy foods can sometimes lack the appeal of tasty treats like pizza, macaroni and cheese, or chicken nuggets. If you have a picky eater on your hands, don’t be afraid to get creative in order to add more nutrients to your child’s diet. There are a few ways to entice picky eaters using their favorite foods.
Cauliflower Pizza Crust
Cauliflower pizza crust is becoming more and more popular, and even if you’re not crazy about the idea, we recommend trying out a couple of recipes if you have a pizza lover on your hands. Veggie pizzas offer a chance to add a few servings of vegetables, and cauliflower crust has far less calories, carbs, and added ingredients than traditional store bought or homemade pizza crust.
Casseroles are a mom’s best friend, because they offer an opportunity to include vegetables your child isn’t necessarily crazy about eating without the hassle of table tantrums. Mushrooms, olives, onions, and other foods adults may enjoy and children may turn town are not always as recognizable in casseroles. Rather than creating a meal for adults and a meal for the kids, create a delicious casserole the whole family can enjoy without compromising on flavor.
Don’t Sugarcoat Healthy Foods
While it can be tempting to find new ways to get your kids to eat healthier meals, be careful about using added sugars to entice them to try new things. Don’t sugar coat the benefits of healthy foods with literal sugar and create a situation where they refuse to try a food without added sugar involved. Don’t feel obligated to make chocolate milk just so your child will drink milk, don’t feel the need to add cheese sauce to any meal with broccoli, and don’t feel pressured to ensure chicken nuggets are available for consumption at least one night per week.
3. Make Grocery Shopping and Cooking Fun
Making the process of buying and preparing a meal fun can also make the process of eating far less stressful for kids and parents alike. If your child is resisting the chance to try new foods, making grocery shopping more exciting can help entice them to try new things. Allowing them to select their own fruits and veggies to try, or creating a game of finding the most colorful fruits and veggies in the produce section removes the fear of trying new foods and offers an opportunity to make healthy choices fun. If your goal is to convince your kids to eat more healthy foods at home, consider allowing them to choose a healthy recipe the whole family can cook together.
4. Offer Healthier Options
Convincing kids to eat healthier foods depends as much on what you have in the pantry as much as what you place on the table at meal times. If your home is frequently stocked with sugary snacks and cereals, sodas and energy drinks, or pasta and bread, kids will be far less likely to choose healthy snacks. Keep healthy snacks on hand to encourage healthy eating habits, and set an example by choosing healthy options yourself as well.
5. Foster Healthy Habits Early
The sooner you introduce your child to healthy eating, the easier it will be to convince him or her to eat more fruits and vegetables later on in life. As with adults who have been exposed to sugar-filled snacks and calorie-laden meals, kids who have experienced a plethora of delicious tastes like candy, ice cream, cereal, and other meals loaded with sugar are less likely to choose healthy meals.
Moderation is Key
You don’t have to totally restrict your child from experiencing new foods and flavors. Moderation is key. However, fruit juices, sugary cereals and snacks, artificial flavors, and pre-prepared meals should not be the norm if you don’t want your child to turn his nose up at healthy options.
Make + Grow Your Own
We don’t expect every parent to grow their own organic vegetables in their backyard or create their own baby food from scratch. We know that’s not realistic for many families in this day and age. However, if you are able and willing to grow a backyard garden and incorporate more whole foods made from scratch into your diet, this can go a long way when it comes to getting your child interested in nutrition.
Fostering Healthy Eating Habits with Whole Foods
Children who grow up around gardens and who eat natural meals without added sugars and flavors tend to be more likely to choose healthier options down the road. The sooner your child learns the importance of eating whole foods, the easier it will be to entice them to make healthy choices.
Set an Example
As with almost any other parenting dilemma, setting an example is key to helping instill healthy habits in your children. Choosing unhealthy packaged meals for lunches and snacks and expecting your child to eat 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day is not nearly as effective as creating a family routine of eating whole, healthy meals. If mom and dad and siblings are also making healthy choices, little ones are far more likely to be interested in healthy foods than if they feel they are forced to eat something they don’t see others eating.
Are you concerned about how much your child is eating?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s eating habits, speak to your pediatrician. He or she will be able to determine if your child’s growth progress and development is normal or whether steps should be taken to change their diet and routine.
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At Pediatrics East, our patients can also utilize the services of a dietician who offers education and training on how to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your child’s diet. Our lactation consultants and dieticians are here to help new moms figure out the best method of breastfeeding or bottlefeeding that works for them. We also work with parents of kids and toddlers who are picky eaters to ensure little ones are getting the proper nutrients to help them grow and develop properly.
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