If your child isn’t the most adventurous person at the dinner table, you’re not alone. Trying something new can be scary, and many of the healthy foods we want our children to eat aren’t as fun or sweet as their tried-and-true favorites. Fortunately, there are a lot of creative ways to handle picky eaters.
First, figure out whether your child is reacting to a food’s taste, texture or appearance. This can make a difference in how you serve it. For example, if your son doesn’t like plain broccoli, try it with Parmesan cheese or lemon juice sprinkled on top. Butternut squash might taste better purreed and added to a homemade soup rather than cubed and off to the side.
Liking new foods takes time. Start by offering your child just a bite or a small serving relative to their main course. Then repeat every few weeks, giving him or her time to adapt to the new taste.
While you’re eating foods they won’t try, describe the taste and texture. When your child sees you eating it, he or she may be more willing to try it, especially if you explain what it’s like.
Give Your Child Some Control
With some guidance, let your child look over recipes and pick the menu for the night. Or establish a theme like make-your-own-taco night, letting the kids choose the toppings for their taco.
Not only is cooking with your child a great way to spend quality time as a family, you can expose him or her to new foods by trying new recipes. When kids cook their own food, they gain a sense of ownership in what they’re making and will be more likely to eat food they prepared themselves.
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Change the Food Preparation
Prepare foods in a way that’s more palatable, like roasting vegetables to bring out their inherent sweetness. For example, if your child won’t eat raw vegetables, offer cooked vegetables instead. Maybe he or she likes bite-size foods and would rather have baby carrots instead of whole carrots.
Make Food Fun
A child who won’t eat cherry tomatoes plain might eat them dipped in hummus or low-fat ranch dressing. Or if your son won’t eat a banana suggest adding peanut butter. You can also make the foods look fun on the plate, turning broccoli into trees, and slicing carrots and cucumber rounds into shapes of flowers.
Spice Up the Name of the Food
Carrots are known to promote eye health. With that in mind, a Cornell University study found that changing the lowly carrot’s name to “X-ray vision carrots” got preschoolers to eat 62% more of them that day (and they continued eating more the next day). Make up some of your own food names at home!
Giving your child encouragement and praise for trying new things is important too. Even if he or she doesn’t like the food, offer a reward for trying it anyway. And telling stories about how you didn’t like a certain food when you were their age can plant the idea that preferences can change over time.
For more tips on helping kids eat a nutritious diet, check out these easy-to-make healthy snacks.