A Dietitian Mom’s advice for getting kids to be a little more adventurous at mealtime
I’m no stranger to picky eating – all THREE of my kids have gone through their own picky eating phases, so I get how frustrating feeding kids can be. I also see parents every day in my counselling practice who are fed up with their kids refusing to eat, or even try a new food. Seriously! They liked the same food yesterday!
The truth is, new foods are unfamiliar and sometimes even scary for our little ones. Seriously! As parents we need to practice MAJOR patience – which can be super tough, especially after multiple meal refusals. Right?!
Positive mealtimes are paramount to a child’s long term relationship with food. So that’s our #1 job – to keep mealtimes positive and pressure-free. By doing this we help our kids feel confident to try new foods when they’re ready – and hopefully like them too! And trust me – the phrase “short term pain, long term gain” really rings true.
Now, I totally get how hard it is to feed kids (hello Lylah!). But here’s the thing – it’s not YOUR job to get your kid to eat, or even try a new food. So, what’s a parent to do? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Here are FIVE ways to entice your kids to try new foods.
1. Stop Short-Order Cooking. Just stop.
This is news to anyone… cooking one meal is way easier than cooking several individual meals. No brainer. So my advice is to keep mealtime simple and serve everyone the same meal. Period. Short-order cooking, catering or going back and forth to the kitchen to grab extra food that your child would rather have are all big no-nos (as tempting as it is – trust me, I know). That’s WAY too much work! AND it teaches kids that they don’t really need to try new foods. Not to mention that it totally messes with the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.
Instead, make sure that there are 4 or 5 foods served at meals and include a few of your child’s tried and true favourites (at least one per child). By seeing a safe and familiar food on their plate, your child will build eating competence. And by including at least one food that you know your child will likely eat, you are taking pressure off the other foods and making them seem less scary. Just think – scary situations like the first day of school can feel less scary when you’re with a friend!
2. Take the Pressure Off (Completely)
Kids sense pressure, whether it’s direct like “you need to eat this now” or indirect, such as pushing a plate or even leaning in to check on their progress. Take the pressure off by backing off and leaving them alone. Kids shouldn’t be forced to eat. They should however be expected to come to the table for family time, and then warned that the kitchen will be closed after the meal is done. With my picky eaters, I found setting a timer for a minimum time of say 10 minutes helped to take the fight out of mealtime. I used to repeat the phrase “you don’t have to eat, but you do have to come to the table” over and over again! Reminding your kids that family time happens at the table and that you want to hear about their day are all ways to help decrease pressure.
If there’s a new food that your child doesn’t want to try (and they may even get upset at the sight of it), let them know that it’s okay and that they don’t have to eat it if they don’t want to. Remember, it’s your job to offer new foods (over and over again), but it’s totally up to your child to decide if they eat it.
3. Give Them Permission to Play
Sometimes kids aren’t read to eat a food, but they are ready to explore it. What this might mean is touching it, licking it, stacking it… you get the idea. Playing with food, like feeling if it’s sticky or mushy, will help with your child’s confidence at the table. Touching food would be the first step in accepting it. And remember, you want to encourage your child to be brave! And reaching out to explore new food takes bravery.
With my kids I gave them permission to taste a few food and spit it out (politely in their napkin) if they didn’t like it. No pressure! This creates a safe environment for kids to become comfortable with new foods.
4. Try a “Tester Plate”
Sometimes kids really get upset when new “unfamiliar” foods touch loved foods. It’s strange, but not uncommon! This contamination ends up making all the food, even the favourites, seem yucky. One way to combat this is to provide your child with a “tester plate” so that they can separate out their new foods and explore them or taste-test them without exposing them to other foods. A simple side plate or plate with divided sections works well!
5. Try a Yummy Dip!
Kids freaking love dip you guys – especially when it comes to veggies (which tend to be the “yuckiest” for most kids). Hummus, ranch dressing, yogurt, squeeze pouches, ketchup, and mustard all make for yummy dips! Whether it’s veggies, meat, or potato, simply add dip and watch the magic happen!
Remember, it’s totally normal to have to introduce a new food dozens and dozens of times before your child will actually eat it. Patience is KEY! Now, if you’re really struggling with picky eating and you’re worried, you can always contact me and my team at The Centre for Family Nutrition for personalized guidance. You can also check out some of my blog posts linked below on picky eating or follow me on Facebook and Instagram!
- 3 Picky Eater Strategies That WORK (and what doesn’t work)
- Got a Picky Eater? Here’s 1 Easy Change That Will Help Right Now
- The Extreme Picky Eater: When a Parent Should Worry
- Has Your Great Eater Turned Into A Picky Eater? Here’s What You Should Do
- Picky Eating: Four Common “Mealtime Battle” Triggers
- How This Well-Meaning Habit is Enabling Your Picky Eater
- My Top 5 Tips to Make Meal Times Easier!