I’m really good at planning healthy meals for my husband and I and I’m really bad at trying to get my kids to eat healthy food. I can’t be the only one who feels like it’s totally exhausting to fight with children over food, and yet I know it’s a fight worth fighting! For the past two years it has been on my new year’s goals list- “Introduce more vegetables, Cook Healthy Meals for kids” and yet they end up eating hot dogs way more than I would like to admit!
When I was given the opportunity to interview registered dietician Shelly Summar I jumped at the opportunity to pick an expert’s brain for tips on how to get kids to eat healthy! I’m excited to share with you 4 tips that she gave me on how to get picky eaters to eat. Shelley is a dietician at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Children’s Mercy provides some great information on family dinner in THIS article. You can also see what other Children’s Mercy mom’s are saying about making meals easy HERE.
1. Try the Food Scientist Approach
“One approach we’ve taken with kids who seem to have a more significant problem trying new foods is what we call the Food Scientist approach. I recommend you try this outside of a meal time. I usually have kids do this with a food they like and a new food that we want them to try. We take a new food we want a child to try and ask them to describe the food based on the 5 senses, for example, what does it smell like? (ex. a big smell or a little smell, does it have a strong scent or no scent), what does it look like? (ex. color, shape); what does it feel like? (ex. fuzzy, smooth, bumpy, wet, dry, hard, squishy); what does it sound like? (ex. quiet or loud, is it crunchy when you bite it); what does it taste like? (ex. use terms they can understand like sweet, salty, etc). “
“We ask them to think about the foods like scientists, using their senses to learn just the facts and avoiding judgment words like yucky or gross. When we ask about the taste, we encourage the child to take a bite but that can be too much for some so a lick or kiss will do. This allows the child to feel a little bit more comfortable with what they are being asked. In addition, it is important for parents to remain neutral as they try this. The more encouragement they give or frustration they show, the more the kids seem to understand the attempt to get them to try a new food and the more they seem to resist. Again, we are focusing on just the facts about the food, not our opinions or whether or not we like the food!”
We tried this approach and my kids really thought it was fun. It was a great summer activity to take up some time after lunch. I laid out each fruit or vegetable on a white piece of paper with the name written on it. The kids handled each of the items and we talked about them like Shelley suggested.
My 5 year old is already on his way to being a great eater, he’s willing to try things most nights and even likes things that surprise me. My 3 year old is a totally different story, so when I reached out to Shelley she was who I was most concerned about. She eats the same 5 foods pretty much everyday and refuses to try new things, literally screams bloody murder if you put something new on her plate. I’m super concerned about her nutrition and I’ve made it a goal this summer to really try and make some strides to improve it.
When we did this “science experiment” is was nice to see her interested in the foods and excited to feel them, smell them and even lick or taste them. I think the fact that it was outside of meal time was key! I also told the kids that all the items on the table were ingredients for meals I was going to make, so they would see them again.
2. New Foods On Their Plate
“Kids need to see foods many times before they may be willing to take a bite. I recommend offering a few bites of non-preferred or new foods on their plate at meals. They don’t need to take a bite, it just needs to stay on their plate.”
I mentioned above that June hates things on her plate that she hasn’t tried before. My mistake has been allowing them to be taken off. I love this new rule that she doesn’t have to eat it but it must stay on her plate. It’s a small step that eventually will grow into taking a bite. With picky eaters progress is made with teensy tiny steps.
3. Play With Food
“There are many steps to being willing to take a bite and swallow food. Encourage your kids to play with their foods, smell their food, and kiss or lick their food. Practice using your food to brush your teeth or see if they can hold it with just their lips! Encourage kids to play with their food, but don’t force the issue. This should be fun!”
Meal time is often stressful at our house, after cooking a delicious meal its super frustrating to figure out what the kids are going to eat since they won’t touch what I spent time making. I can see how encouraging some play at the dinner table will make dinner more fun and make my kids more comfortable with their food.
4. Switch It Up!
“It’s also important with younger kids to alternate the foods offered, so they don’t eat exactly the same thing every day. Only offer the same foods every other day. You can make small changes to their preferred foods, such as changing the shape (try different shapes of pasta, cut out a sandwich with a cookie cutter), adding a little bit of a different flavor (add a little seasoning, sprinkle on parmesan cheese), or even changing the color.”
I’m also totally guilty of giving my kids the exact same foods every day because it’s easy and I know they will eat it. I love this advice to switch it up, just what I needed to hear!
So pretty much the moral of the story is that we (the parents) need to be patient, consistent and committed to our kids nutrition. If those aren’t the pillar attributes of all parenting I don’t know what is! Don’t give up, keep cooking vegetables even if you are the only one who eats them. Keep a smile on your face and positive attitude about the delicious food you are eating and eventually the kids will join in eating those quinoa stuffed bell peppers or portobello cous cous salads. One day I will only have to make one meal at dinner, Oh how I’m hoping that day comes sooner than later! 😉
And because everyone loves a baby here’s a few photos our sweet 7 month old girl enjoying some watermelon!
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This post is sponsored by Children’s Mercy Hospital