I’ve read many articles on getting picky eaters to eat healthy or to eat at all. There’s tons of them out there and tons of advice. It’s hard! Parents, the struggle is very real and I don’t think there is one answer. Every kid is different. But I’m going to point out some of the ideas we’ve tried that didn’t work so well for us, but worked for others. AND what we have found new success in doing lately (whew, a glimmer of hope). Because parents of picky eaters…the struggle is very real.
Maybe one of these ideas will work for you.
Get Them Involved
The idea behind getting them involved is that if they are part of process of choosing and/or prepping the meal, then they are invested and more likely to be willing participants at meal time. It works for some kids. But…we tried getting the our picky eaters involved in the cooking and it just made a huge mess and added a layer of complication to the dinner preparation process. I found that I had to prep the cooking process by figuring out what needs to be done and which child should assist with which part of the preparation. I think maybe I’m a little too high-strung for this method. Occasionally, cooking with the kids is a good activity for bonding and making memories but daily cooking with the kids is a nightmare, for me anyway.
I tried letting the picky eaters flip through a recipe book of “kid-approved” recipes and asked them to pick out some things they’d like to try. Everything they picked was related to sugar. Doughnuts, waffles, pancakes, and peanut butter and jelly would be their meals and they’d set them in a rotation.
Hide the Healthy Stuff
Some parents don’t like the idea that we’re being sneaky with this method. They don’t promote sneaky behavior and they want their kids to know they are eating healthy foods and to be proud of that fact. If you’re one of them guys, that’s cool. Carry on. I salute you.
I’m okay with hiding stuff. I do it for myself sometimes ’cause I’m not tough enough to eat plain kale. Plus, all ingredients are a secret for most stuff unless kids ask or watch or help you cook. This method worked for us but it was limited in it’s success. I’m exploring some awesome recipes now for hiding the healthy stuff like cauliflower mac and cheese and squash pizza to use in combination with our new method of getting picky eaters to eat healthy (I’ll get to that in a bit). I think I can find greater success if I use the two methods in combination.
But when I tried just hiding healthy foods they’d turn their nose up at most anything except the occasional smoothie. Smoothies do work, but how often do you want to make and eat smoothies? My kids won’t eat hamburgers or spaghetti. So I’m dealing with some challenging picky eaters here. How do you hide vegetables in spaghetti if they won’t eat spaghetti in the first place?
Give Them A Choice
I tried letting them choose between what we were having and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich each night. They were quite pleased with having PB&J every night. They were eating but they weren’t eating healthy foods.
The ole’ “Clean Your Plate Or Else” Method
We tried forcing them to sit at the table until they either finished the food on their plate or went to bed for the night. That was a nightmare and I couldn’t imagine spending every night fighting that battle. What a horrible way for families to end their day together! Screams and cries ruined the evening and led to an early bedtime with no quality family time at all. Yuck. Didn’t work for us.
The “This is It” Method
We tried letting them eat what they wanted on their plate and keeping the plate so when they were hungry later the only option was to finish their dinner. We’d say, “this is it for today. No snacks later. If you get hungry, you’re dinner will be waiting.” This is where we ended up staying for a good long while. It kept the peace. The problem is that they rarely returned to the kitchen to finish what was on their plate and simply looked forward to their morning breakfast. Which meant an opportunity to get healthy food in them was missed.
A Turning Point for Our Picky Eaters
My husband had had enough. He was determined to fight the battle and win. To be honest, I was less than encouraged and didn’t want to be a part of it. I’d already been down this road. I’d closed that door and was resolved to simply model healthy eating and figured they’d come around with curiosity eventually. But, my husband, the valiant warrior that he is, wanted to give this thing one more shot.
So there they were, staring at Nutty Noodles with Vegetables. My husband and I were done eating the delicious meal and we were resisting seconds while the littles were still moaning. “Here we go again,” I thought. My husband said, “I’ve got this” and I opted to go for a walk (instead of having seconds). “Good luck dear, I’m outta here!”
When I returned, to my great amazement, one child had finished her dinner and was playing games. The other child had opted for an early bedtime. But it was over, I’d avoided it, and my husband managed to get one child to eat something with broccoli, carrots, and onions in it.
The next night, we served up some leftover Nutty Noodles with Vegetables. I was dreading it again and I knew the kids would be less than enthusiastic about seeing the encore presentation on their plates. But we don’t let food go to waste. So I heated it up and divided it out. Prayers were said through whining. My husband began enthusiastically reminding them of the new method. My daughter had to explain it to me as hubby set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes. If they clean their plate before the timer is up, they get as many chocolate chips as there were minutes remaining on the clock.
My 6-year-old cleaned her plate and earned herself 14 chocolate chips. The chocolate was ceremoniously counted out in front of the still-struggling 3-year old. With lots of encouragement and some serious struggling with a piece of broccoli, my youngest managed to earn herself 8 chocolate chips.
It was a true break-through too. Not just a one-time thing. Armed with this new technique, they are both at least tasting it, which is a step in the right direction. I’m encouraged enough by these changes that I’ve found myself motivated to search for healthy recipes that might entice them and I’m going to return to the idea of hiding the healthy stuff too. Now that my picky eaters have the proper motivation they might not turn their noses up this time. It’s rough getting those little guys to stretch their taste buds. But I hope you find success with it.
The Sneaky Chef – expert at hiding the healthy stuff