How to encourage picky eaters to eat!

I’ve been working at TABLE for over 10 years and have two little girls, ages 2 and 4, with baby #3 is on the way! Working at TABLE all this time, I have learned the importance of eating nutritiously, how food makes our bodies function properly, and even how food can heal and be used as medicine! Because of my work and its direct relationship with healthy food, eating nutritiously and encouraging my family, especially my littles, to eat nutritiously has grown more and more important to me. 

As a family, we’ve taken little steps to encourage healthy eating. First with my girls but also realizing that mom and dad have to model this behavior. Everyone has a starting point and we don’t have to do it perfectly to succeed. We certainly do not eat perfectly but my girls do eat a wide variety of foods. They love to eat and it makes mealtime more enjoyable and easier for all of us! 

One of their favorite meals are dumplings that include various vegetables in them including carrots, cauliflower, and spinach. Both girls also enjoy salads, broccoli, and a variety of fruits. My youngest loves to eat bell peppers with cheese. But, they also enjoy things like pizza, ice cream, tacos, and so much more. I told you, we don’t eat perfectly!

I know it can be a struggle to ensure our kids are eating a well balanced and healthy diet. Here are some of my tips to encourage kids to eat more of the most nutritious foods they can.

Start eating more variety yourself.
What you eat is what your kids are going to want to try and eat – especially for littles. 

Hide fruits and veggies in other foods. 
This is one of my favorite things to do. I even prefer this for myself at times. It’s important that your kids see, know, and choose to eat veggies, but if you are just starting on your journey, this is an easy, creative, and fun way to make snacks and meals more nutrient dense. Some of my favorite, easy vegetables to hide depending on the food include zucchini, riced cauliflower, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach or arugula.  Some easy meals to hide veggies in include:

  • Spaghetti or lasagna – add peppers, carrots, riced cauliflower, spinach or arugula, & mushrooms
  • Chili – add peppers, carrots, riced cauliflower, spinach or arugula, & avocado
  • Rice – add spinach or riced cauliflower
  • Taco meat – add riced cauliflower & spinach
  • Smoothies – there are SO MANY THINGS you can add to a smoothie. Frozen spinach tastes less strong, so it’s a great fit. Fruits like banana and mango make a smoothie sweeter and keep it from tasting like veggies. My dad has even put broccoli in smoothies. I, myself, haven’t figured that one out, but can attest that his smoothies taste great. Frozen fruits and veggies are often less expensive too, so this could be a good start! 

Overtime, you can even increase the size or amount of the veggie and, eventually, tell your kids (or spouse!) that you put veggies in certain meals. 

Don’t let kiddos snack too much! 
They are often willing to try more food and eat more when they are feeling hungry. Going outside to get some of their energy out can also encourage eating more and more variety! 

When it’s time to eat, have an appetizer of fruits and veggies.
This was a recommendation from a board member to me one time and trust me, it’s a game changer! Encourage them to touch it, smell it, and even lick it. This might get them comfortable enough to actually eat it. It can take up to 20+ exposures of an item before a kid will even try a new food!

Start developing a culture of trying foods in your home! 
It will take time, but try new foods with your kids and let them know that you want them to try foods on their plate. They don’t have to eat it all, just try it 1-2 times. 

Don’t let one NO decide if your child likes something forever. 
I have seen my girls like something one day and dislike it the next. Perhaps it’s even what their bodies need at that point. This is okay! Just keep putting a small amount on their plate and tell them you want them to try it again. 

Only have certain foods available. 
If you offer too much variety, it can be overwhelming. My oldest daughter tends to lean toward less nutritious things when we have those available instead of something more nutritious. So, limit the foods you have available to 2-4 items. 

Don’t make a habit of preparing your child different food. 
During mealtimes, make your child what the rest of the family is eating. If they get used to you making them a separate meal, that is what they will expect and they will not eat what you make available for them. If this is already happening, it’s okay! Kids can adapt to new expectations. Take a gentle approach and start by talking to your kids (old or young) about the changes you want to make. When you make a meal for the family, be sure to include foods that you know your child likes and put a small amount of other items on their plate. Perhaps they will be willing to try those items over time!

Get creative and use sugar, seasonings, and salt as tools. 
Sugar and salt are not bad. Instead of letting them be the ultimate desire, use them to eat more nutritiously. Or, think about how you might add more nutritious food items to your treats and cravings. For example, instead of eating ice cream or cake that isn’t as nutrient dense, would your family like mango ice cream or homemade popsicles like peach-strawberry or banana with peanut butter and cocoa powder? Or, I love to eat pizza. Add some veggies to the pizza sauce to make it more nutritious or arugula to the top! You can also add veggies and fruits easily with muffins and pancakes.

Be patient, don’t stress, and give grace. 
Our culture is filled with all sorts of tempting food, some very nutritious and some not nutrient dense. It’s a hard thing to change for kids and adults so give yourself and your kids grace. Take baby steps and find some YUMMY alternatives. The point of eating nutritiously is NOT to NOT enjoy food. Figure out what works for you and your family so that mealtimes are not miserable, but fun, nutritious, and delicious! 

I hope this blog serves as encouragement that we can ALL take steps to care for our bodies. It doesn’t look the same for everyone. Each of us needs different nutrients, likes different foods, and even has different actions that work well for our lifestyles. 

Here’s to our journey to eating enjoyably and caring for our bodies! 🙂

I’d love to learn if you have any fun tips. Leave a comment here and share!

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