Expand Your Picky Eater’s Palate
Expand Your Picky Eater’s Palate
By Christina Katz
For parents of picky eaters, finding strategies to employ in the short run that help your child become a better eater in the long run is the name of the game. Try a patient, understanding approach and watch the results. Our daughter actually has a healthy appetite—thank goodness. She is simply more eager to eat certain foods than others.
If you are the parent of a picky eater, consider using less judgment and pressure to force your child to eat what you want her to eat, and more understanding and patience in encouraging her to expand her options.
The last thing you want is to turn eating into an emotionally charged event.
My husband and I have learned to halt the food wars and work with our daughter to expand her palate over time. Once an extremely picky eater, today she eats a variety of healthy foods, tries new foods all the time, and is continually adding new foods to her diet of her own volition.
If you are dealing with food battle frustrations at the kitchen table, call a truce. You may find these tips helpful:
Stick to a family mealtime routine.
So much of a happy mealtime comes from the attitude the people at the table. Life is too short to turn mealtime into a battle zone. Your goal is to create a harmonious relationship with mealtime for life. Let your picky eater set a pretty table and participate in meal preparation.
Offer choices starting at a young age.
While it might be tempting to only offer what you know your picky eater will consume, get in the habit of offering a tiny taste of other foods when your child is hungry, but not so hungry as to be prone to upsets. Even if most offers are rejected, trust that curiosity will catch up with your child’s appetite eventually, so long as tastes are offered in a non-pushy, non-shaming manner.
Make a date to try new foods.
My husband once cajoled my daughter to expect to try a new food on her birthday. The date came, we put the food in front of her, and she ate it. She knew it was coming and she just went with it. Why not try setting a date to try a new food and then making the sampling a little ceremonious. You can introduce lots of new foods this way, one at a time, over time.
Provide balanced choices.
Chances are good that there are certain food groups your child would skip altogether if you let her. Don’t let her. Tell her that she can have the ripe, juicy watermelon she really wants after she eats the protein or veggies she is not as interested in. Go ahead and cut the watermelon and put it in sight. This should be motivation enough.
Watch out for carbs, sugar, and junk food.
My daughter would eat pasta all day if I let her. As soon as I noticed her mounting enthusiasm for carbs, I started offering her protein first, then veggies, then pasta, and finally fruit to make sure her diet stays balanced. If your child is overly enthusiastic for sugar, try adding more fruit choices as snacks. Dried fruit is remarkably sweet. If junk food is a problem, go to your local whole food store and opt for the healthy snack foods, in measured quantities, instead of typical snack foods which are high in preservatives and salt.
Don’t take any flak.
There are plenty of people out there who have no tolerance for your novel approach to healthy eating habits. Don’t try their patience by asking for special treatment for your child when she is a guest in their homes. Simply send along prepared snacks or meals in a lunch box like you would do for school. If you keep the focus on a fun time rather than what your child eats and does not eat, the other parent will get the message that you are not seeking approval, whether she approves or not.
Let another patient or family member offer new foods.
On the other hand, if you know any positive parents, whom your child is inclined to listen to, have them offer your child some new foods they already eat at mealtime. My daughter started eating broccoli and chicken at our family friend’s house before she was ever interested in these items at home. Once we knew she had liked them elsewhere, we just added them to her diet.
Spend time together cooking.
Spark your child’s interest in food in general by checking out over-sized cookbooks from your local library. Leave them lying around on the coffee table or look at the pictures together. This is a great way to spark your child’s imagination about food and create curiosity about how to prepare foods. Tell her you’ll be happy to try some simple recipes, so long as she is willing to taste the results.
Break out ingredients from complex recipes.
Casserole, soups, or any other complicated recipes are scorned out-of-hand by picky eaters because they can’t tell what’s in there. So, when you are preparing a one-dish meal, leave out a portion of each primary ingredient for your picky eater. Chances are good that she likes many of the ingredients, but prefers not to eat them mashed together. Offer a taste of the finished product at mealtime anyway, and don’t be too surprised if she bites.
Help Picky Eaters Learn to Love Food
- Offer young children imagination toys that allow them to play chef like Melissa & Doug’s Cutting Fruit Set.
- Outdoor pets like dogs make good active playmates for a picky eater and always set a good example of hearty eating.
- Encourage kids to play grocery store or restaurant in your kitchen.
- Watch age-appropriate food shows with your child. Chances are you will both be inspired.
- Take a pre-dinner walk around the neighborhood. Ask neighborhood kids about their favorite dinner foods.
- Keep eating fun by introducing kids to playful food spaces like tea houses, specialty stores, ethnic food markets, and frozen yogurt shops.
- Grow food outdoors in a small garden. Plant foods you know your picky eater will enjoy. Sharon Lovejoy writes wonderful illustrated gardening books that delight kids and adults.