Guest Blog: Healthy Ways to Win Over Picky Eaters
How would you feel if every restaurant you went to had the same menu? So why does every “Kids’ Menu” we encounter have the same few items? Who decided that children only eat chicken fingers, hot dogs or macaroni and cheese?
I’m not a fan of kids’ menus but when we do eat out with our two-year-old son, Charlie, I usually order his meal from one, mainly for the smaller portion size. When we’re home, however, Charlie eats what we do. Granted, it’s easier to get him to eat broccoli if it’s a topping on homemade pizza, and some days he’d rather throw his scrambled eggs on the floor than devour them, but for the most part he has a pretty developed palette. And I’d like to think that’s because I exposed him to many varieties of food early on.(It also helps that he’s an excellent eater, which makes these little experiments a lot easier.)
People ask me all the time for recipes and strategies for getting their kids to eat food that doesn’t come pre-packaged. Parenting is the hardest job ever, and dealing with picky eaters is certainly trying, but as with anything, I think a few simple strategies can help. It’s never too early to instill good eating habits in your children. And if they grow up and still want to eat at McDonald’s, well at least you will have done your part.
Make whole grains the only option. Babies and small children are a blank slate when it comes to food. If they don’t know that nutritionally dense white sandwich bread exists, they won’t come to expect their sandwiches on it. And whole grains are so easy to bake with these days. These honey millet muffins, from the blog, 101 Cookbooks, are a huge favorite in our house.
Indulge their curiosity. If your child shows interest in what you’re eating, let them have a bite. Even if they make a face—or hand that bite back to you, as my son does—at least they will have tried something new. (And maybe they’ll actually like kale pesto!)
Ride out their preference for one food. I should start growing watermelons in my backyard with the frequency that we go through them. Charlie wants watermelon with every meal—and sometimes instead of the dinner I’ve prepared for him. I wondered if I should set a limit on how much he has, but honestly, it’s fruit, it’s a warm weather staple, and I’d rather him satisfy his sweet tooth with melon rather than mint chocolate chip ice cream. And just like his fixation with avocados and applesauce this obsession too, shall pass. Hopefully before watermelons go out of season.
Get sneaky. No matter how good an eater your kid is, vegetables can still be a tough sell. Which is why I am a big proponent of hiding them in foods they’ll want to eat, like homemade muffins or fritters. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s one worth repeating because it works. Charlie’s not a big fan of broccoli on its own, but throw it into one of these meatless balls or this quiche and he cleans his plate. These eggplant zucchini balls are another great option.
Don’t stress. How many adults do you know who are picky eaters? How many dinner guests have you had who’ll only eat “white foods?” Exactly. Your kids won’t be fussy about food forever. And when the time comes for them to order off of the adult menu in restaurants, they’ll probably pass on the chicken fingers. (At least most of the time.)
Michelle Hainer is a freelance writer, editor and blogger. Follow her adventures eating seasonally, locally and organically at Made By Michelle.