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7 Easy Ways to Get Picky Eaters to Eat Healthier

Tactics, tips and tricks to make healthy food for picky eaters.

By Sherry CampbellPublished 4 years ago 6 min read
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7 Easy Ways to Get Picky Eaters to Eat Healthier
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Are you running out of ideas for getting your little one to eat healthier foods? You're not alone. In 2017, researchers from NTNU found that 26% of 4 year olds can be categorized as "picky eaters". With more than 1 in 4 children (or should I say parents) suffering from this designation, it's fair to say children struggle to naturally understand the importance of a balanced diet. It's imperative that we as adults find effective ways to use good-willed tactics in order to promote a healthy diet for our young.

Here are 7 tactics, tips and tricks you can use to make healthy foods for picky eaters.

1. Know What Makes Them Picky

First off, let's take a deep breath. Inhale for 5 Mississippi, hold at the top of your breath, then let it all go. I have good news: it's completely normal. Showing anxiety over your child's picky eating habits will not help the situation. Instead, it's best to take a step back and think about what is causing the pickiness in the first place.

Fortunately, it's probably not about the food at all—it’s often a control struggle. In other words, "it’s not the green beans, the peas or even the elusive dessert that’s upsetting them," explains Dina Rose, PhD, a sociologist and author of It’s Not About the Broccoli.

While most of the time it's not about the Broccoli, there will be times when your child doesn't like the taste or consistency of a healthy food. In times like these, Rose explains, it might not be about pickiness, rather it's "an expression of fear or other feelings." Try giving your child some of the control or say in the meal. For instance, put a choice of 2 healthy meals in front of them and let them pick the one that they would rather eat. Sooner or later, they'll overcome whatever was holding them back and be comfortable to try even more new foods!

2. Structure Mealtime for The Same Time Each Day

Implementing a daily mealtime regimen is a worthy approach at getting picky eaters to eat healthier. It's easy to reward good behavior with treats, but once those acts positive reinforcements begin to interfere with their appetite, you've run into a problem.

No, I'm not saying not to give your child a treat every once and a while! However, limiting the one-off snacks your kid eats throughout the day will pay off BIG. When a child is constantly given snacks they might not feel as hungry when it comes time to eat dinner. They may still need the necessary nutrients for healthy growth, but at the same time not feel hungry in the slightest.

So, instead of the classic "you're going to sit there until you finish your chicken & vegetables," consider the amount of snacks they're eating throughout the day.

3. Eat Meals Together

Instead of hovering over your picky eater as they play around with the remaining food on their plate, consider eating with them. Prepare a delicious looking, healthy meal that they can watch you enjoy! Eventually, you'll find that they want to emulate your good eating habits by having a couple bites of their own.

One healthy meal that I find works best for picky eaters is Plant Camp's Mac 'n' Cheese. It's made with pea protein and carrots with key nutrients from spinach, broccoli, and sweet potato; and it's 100% delicious. Parents have found that it's a nice middle ground to introduce healthier eating to their child because of their familiarity with traditional boxed mac and cheese. Plant Camp's Mac 'n' Cheese has that same savory taste that kids (and adults) love with none of the artificial flavoring, making it the perfect starting point for any parent stressing about healthy meal prep.

My advice is to keep a couple boxes in the cupboard to save as backup––just in case you serve something that they won't eat for lunch or dinner. Little do they know, they're getting all the nutrients straight from the mac n' cheese!

Setting a good example for your kids doesn't have to be explained to them. They're incredibly perceptive and impressionable for good behavior and bad behavior; so, crafting an especially attractive & healthy plate can go a long way in establishing a healthy lifestyle for years to come.

4. Cook Together

One of the best ways to get your little ones excited about eating healthy is by including them in the cooking process! As displayed above, it might be easiest to get the process started by making a small play area in the kitchen!

By not pushing them to be involved, you allow them to be exposed to the wonderful sounds & smells that come with cooking a delicious, healthy meal. Before long, they'll be asking questions and finding ways they can help you perfect the dish!

It's key to avoid any potential resentment around meal time. In passively including your child in the cooking process, you allow them to form their own interests and opinions. Once you've piqued their interest, all you have to do is provide healthy ingredients. Easy as pie! Uhhh, I mean piece of cake... oh, you know what I mean.

5. Find Similarities

Once you find a healthy food they do like, try expanding their horizons into similar foods. For example, if you find they like french fries, you might try roasting potatoes in the shape of fries. Once they are used to that, you can try adding in some french fry shaped sweet potatoes!

Sometimes a child's rejection of a specific dish has little to do with its contents and more about its presentation. Try serving the healthy food in a fun way! We all know the "here comes the airplane" move, but have fun and get creative. Prep healthy foods in fun designs and come up with a story that they can enjoy! And when in doubt, pair a new food with a food they already love. Favorites like Plant Camp's Mac n' Cheese can be paired with a protein or vegetable (my go to is mixing in some broccoli florets with that White Cheddar goodness), and your child will be more likely to eat something new!

6. Don't Fight or Negotiate

Try to avoid fighting and negotiating when trying to get your picky eater to eat healthier. Instead, level with them and speak with a calming inflection. Speak in the way that you like to be spoken to, and let them know that the kitchen is a safe place.

The goal is to teach them to enjoy food, not associate it with negative feelings and memories. So, although it can be frustrating, try your best to keep calm and let your toddler know how important it is that they eat healthily. Make sure to reinforce their good behavior with positive affirmations when you notice that they're on the right track!

7. Keep Trying

At the end of the day, all you can do is try. As long as you're researching and trying your best to persuade your picky eater into into eating healthy foods, you're doing your job. There will be times where you cave and just give them what they want—it happens to the best of us. That doesn't mean that you've failed your child, it just means the search for the perfect method is not over.

Also, it's important to note that kids change their minds all the time. Just because they didn't like a vegetable last week doesn't mean it should be off the table for future meals. Try different preparations and keep persisting with the same foods every once in a while until they find a way to associate it with something they do enjoy. Once you find the key to a healthy eating habit, don't question it. Don't. Move. A. Muscle. Keep rolling with what works and observe. Sometimes it's not about a tip, trick or tactic—it's just pure chance.

Be patient, and trust that your little one will open up to healthier foods. Every child is different, and before long you'll be coming up with methods of your own that work for your child specifically. Enjoy the journey to healthier eating. They won't be this young forever— and whether you know it or not, the way you approach a common problem like introducing healthy foods for picky eaters will set a precedent for future obstacles. Keep a positive attitude and continue doing your best!

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About the Creator

Sherry Campbell

Second grade teacher by day, at home therapist for two middle school daughters by night.

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