We want our kids to have healthy appetites and attitudes about healthy food. One of the most frustrating parenting concerns with kids seems to be the picky eaters! We can’t force feed them, we don’t want them to starve, we don’t want them eating unhealthy junk food or turning mealtime into a war zone. Just as a child develops in growth, speech, motor skills, the taste buds and palate for foods are also developing so here are some great tips to help assist healthy eating for somewhat picky eaters.
Family meals are so important in the behavior training process. It’s a time kids learn table manners, family conversation and bonding, and problem solving. Studies have shown that having family meals at the table a minimum of 4 times a week have direct correlation with kids and teens success. Things like academic performance, higher self esteem, higher resilience, and lower risks of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, depression and eating disorders/obesity are positively affected just by having family mealtime.
Kids like to have choices and can be part of the family meal plans each week by designating a day they get to choose and help prepare the menu. This is the time to discuss what has to be included to make healthy meal choices using the food pyramid. Fun meal ideas we used were things like: breakfast for dinner night, sandwich night, baked potato bar, taco bar, and salad bar nights, which allowed each child to select what toppings they like to make their own. When kids help make the meal they also learn to respect the other family members choices, be polite about what they are served with less complaining. Kids also learn meal planning and cooking, making them prepared with independent living skills.
Going along with making healthy meal choices, involve kids in prepping and packing school lunches too. This will help them be more empowered and less wasteful of food when they can easily throw out anything you pack that they won’t eat. It’s another independent living skill that takes some burden off parents when kids get older.
Three Bite Rule
We always used the three bite rule, meaning try three bites at least before deciding you don’t like something. If they try three bites and still don’t want to eat their vegetable or whatever then it’s ok because they at least tried it. There is no need to get into a knock down argument over eating all the broccoli. Simply three bites and then done if it’s yucky.
Yucky Food List
We incorporated the yucky food list! All the kids were allowed to have three food items they completely wouldn’t eat (like, it makes me gag yucky). We made a list printed on the kitchen fridge and if their yucky food was served, they could supplement that item with a sandwich or healthy fruit or veggie out of the fridge, depending on age, but they must prepare the food because moms are not short order cooks. They create the list and commit to it and the funny thing is as time goes on they will remove things from the list and replace them because their palates do change and develop over time. My kids didn’t like flavorful foods when they were small, like onions and peppers, but now they love them. Kids usually like blander foods and don’t like stuff with lots of mixed ingredients. And if they vomit or gag from something they will not likely want to ever eat it again.
Reduce Sodium Sugar/Dessert
The primary taste buds with kids are going to gravitate to salty and sweet foods so if your little isn’t eating a healthy mix, reducing salty and sugary snacks might help. Instead of cake or ice cream for dessert, maybe try jello or fruit with whipped topping. Instead of chips try popcorn with less salt. Instead of sweet cereal, try oatmeal.
I hope these tips help encourage healthy eating habits with your littles and picky eaters! Remember that kids ultimately are the ones in control of whether or not they eat but as parents we are the teachers and examples in exploring healthy foods while setting them up for good nutrition. Mealtime should be fun and happy time for family bonding. It’s important to get kids started having a healthy attitude towards food early on for lifetime health.