Picky eating feels like one of those universal challenges that all parents deal with. And even if you don’t have a classic picky eater at home, odds are that someone at the dinner table isn’t going to be thrilled with some aspect of the evening’s meals.
Early this year, I shared some basic strategies that we use at home for dealing with a picky eater. Here are a few more:
- Keep Things Low Key – Turning mealtime into a power struggle is a sure-fire recipe for creating a disaster. At the end of the day, unless you shove the fork into your child’s mouth (and I’m not recommending this strategy), they are going to decide if they will eat the food. Keep things low-key by avoiding difficult conversations at the table; this will only make the mood tenser.
- Reduce Unnecessary Distractions – Admittedly, this is probably a strategy for all eaters, but turning off the TV and keeping phones away from the dinner table keeps the focus on the food and the interactions between family members.
- Pay Attention to Likes and Dislikes – When you hear a yuck in reaction to a food, be curious. What about the food is displeasing to the child? Kids have sensitivities to textures, smells, and tastes that shift and change over time. Recognizing them and planning for and around them can help a child feel better about meal times.
- Get Kids Involved in Meal Prep – Encouraging your kids to help prepare the food will make them more open to trying new things. Participation can vary depending upon age. Young children can dump in ingredients or help stir. Older kids can play sous chef, helping to find ingredients and measure them out. Teenagers can learn to prepare specific dishes.
- Let Them Dip – When possible, allow your kids to have the sauce on the side. They may be more willing to try something if you let them control how much of a sauce is poured all over it. They may even want to dip it in their preferred sauce (yes, this is most likely ketchup). It doesn’t matter that you would never dip asparagus in ketchup; your kid is willing to try eating it if they can.
- Don’t Give Up – Just because your kids didn’t eat something the first time you prepared it doesn’t mean that they won’t eat it when you serve it again. Some dishes need to be presented several times before a child is willing to eat them.
- Dessert Isn’t a Reward – Keeping kids from eating dessert sends a signal that this is the best part of the meal and it lines up with your child’s desire to eat sweet foods. Decide which meals during the week come with dessert or specify that dessert is something relatively healthy. Of course, if a child announces that they are full, it may not make sense to offer them dessert.