What happens when your kid starts to develop a taste for foods… when they start to prefer certain things over others… when they begin to refuse to eat what you make for dinner… when in reality, they become picky eaters?
As mom, you know they need to eat, and you know they need to eat healthy, real foods. You know the food you’re making doesn’t taste bad. You eat it. Dad eats it. Some of the children eat it.
So what do you do with the kids that seem to hate everything you put in front of them unless it’s processed?
The answers to these questions come in all different forms, but today I’m going to share 10 things to keep in mind when trying to get picky kids to eat the healthy meals you make them. I personally use these tips with my kids when I’m trying to get them on board with eating healthy, real food meals.
10 Tips To Get Your Picky Kids To Eat Healthy Foods
#1 – Who’s In Charge
Basically, this boils down to me letting my kids know that I am mom, and if they’re hungry, they can eat what they’re given. That’s number one. Someone has to be the boss, and in our house, it’s me and dad.
Our kids know that we love and respect them. We give them choices about things at time, and we enjoy them. But, they know that we’re in charge and there are some things that are non-negotiable.
#2 – Show Them Examples Of Good & Bad Health
I talk about being healthy a lot with my kids. We talk about healthy foods, about how sickness effects us in ways we don’t like, and about people that we know that are healthy or unhealthy. I also talk about how eating good foods makes them strong and healthy like daddy since they’re boys and they want to be like him as they grow up. All this is so they can visualize what good health looks like and to make it appealing to them.
#3 – Make It Taste Good
I do my best to chose foods/meals that I think my kids will like. I mean, no one wants to eat something that tastes nasty. But, no matter how I try, there are times where we need to try something new or there’s something about it they won’t like so much. So some things I do when I’m making something that I think they’ll not immediately like so much taste better is to use herbs and spices, homemade broth, butter ,and sea salt. Usually, once they try it, they see that it really does taste good… even if it doesn’t look good, and they’ll eat it.
A good example of this is kale chips. My kids took one look at them and refused to eat them, but once they saw mama and little bro enjoying them (and of course I made a BIG deal about them being so good) they decided to give it a try. Boy, were they glad they did!
#4 – Finishing Their Plate vs. Making An Effort
My kids don’t have to eat their food all gone, but they do have to make an effort.
I was never made to clean my plate as a child, and I’ve never really struggled with overeating as an adult. My husband, on the other hand, was taught to clean his plate, and still, to this day, he will keep eating until his food is gone even if he’s already full.
To me, that’s a bad habit that I don’t want to pass on to our kids. Thankfully my husband agrees with how we’re doing things.
#5 – Get Them Involved
As often as I’ve worked with my kids to get them over being picky eaters (and trust me, this comes and goes in stages like a lot of childhood things do), the more I’ve seen that having them help me in the kitchen is a good strategy. When they help mama make dinner, they feel like it’s their food, and they want to eat it.
Plus, when little brother complains about the food, it helps them understand how I feel when they do it to me. There’s nothing like first-hand experience to cause a lightbulb to go off in their head!
#6 – Be Flexible
Flexibility is a must. Like I said before, I do try to find recipes my kids like. If they don’t like one version of a meal I try to find a similar one or adjust it in some way to suit them better next time around. I also don’t toss a recipe the first time I make it if they don’t like it. I try it out a few times just to be sure. If it never gets any better and they never develop a taste for it, then I’ll get rid of it.
#7 – Limit Snacks
This was a huge breakthrough for us. For the longest time I would let my kids have a snack whenever they asked because I felt like their bodies knew when they were hungry and needed food, but I eventually realized what was happening was that they were filling up on snacks and therefore they weren’t hungry at meal times.
So now, I don’t give my kids endless snacks throughout the day. We have a scheduled snack time between lunch and dinner since that’s our longest span between meals during the day, and if they’re hungry, they wait until then. This has also taught them to eat a good amount of their food when they do get it because they know they won’t be getting more until the next meal.
Now I will say here that these time spans vary based on my children’s ages. My littler ones eat more frequently than the older ones. And, this will also vary if you have a child with a medical condition like hypoglycemia or something similar where they need to eat more frequently, but still, you can create a schedule for them. Kids thrive on routine because they aren’t caught off guard and they know what to expect.
#8 – Be A Good Example
“Monkey see, monkey do” goes for healthy foods as well as junk foods. If my kids saw me enjoying junk, but I said they couldn’t have it, that wouldn’t make much sense to them, and it would create a rebellious spirit in them. That’s not what I want. I eat the exact same foods my kids eat… snacks and all.
#9 – Give Them Responsibility
This is similar to #5, except here I’m talking about more responsibility than helping with meals alone.
Not only do my kids help me cook meals, but they help me pick out our foods when we go to the grocery store, I give them choices when I’m planning our meals for the week, they help dad and I work in the garden and grow healthy food, and we talk about being good stewards of our bodies and how being healthy is part of that. I’m teaching them to be responsible and little by little, I see and hear them say things about wanting to be healthy.
#10 – Attitude Training
Now, this was and is a big one for us. I can’t tell you how often I hear (or see) my kids bad attitudes when I cook something they don’t love. It can be a yucky face, it can be them saying that the food “isn’t my favorite”, or it can be pure silence and a lack of enthusiasm. No matter, bad attitudes stink, and I like my house to smell good so this is something we’re constantly working on. Besides, no one likes a whiny kid or a disrespectful older child, teenager, or adult. So working to correct these behaviors while they’re small is key for us. This doesn’t only apply to food or to mom and dad either… it spills over into many different areas of life and affects more people than just their family.
So, if they’re whining or having bad attitudes over eating, then we work on attitude training with them. We first start with immediately correcting them when they have the bad attitude. We always explain it as if they had stood in the kitchen for an hour making dinner and had mama or daddy say their food was yucky. We explain how that is selfish and not being thoughtful of the person doing something kind for them. Then we all sit down to eat and enjoy our food while that hopefully soaks in.
If they still don’t make a good effort at eating their food and the bad attitude is still there, they may have to stay sitting at the table after the rest of us are finished while we do something fun because we ate our food. Sometimes they don’t get dessert because they didn’t eat. And sometimes we may give them their unfinished food again at the next meal with no snacks until then. It just depends. No matter, bad attitudes are viewed as negative in our home, and the only thing that comes from them is a negative consequence.
So there you go… those are my 10 tips to working at getting your kids into eating real foods with less pickiness.
Again, these won’t work for all families or kids. Pick and choose and try different things. Get creative, get your kids involved, and have fun. But above all, make sure that they know that mom and dad are running the show and there’s only room for one cook in the kitchen… and that’s you, mama!