Coping with Picky Eaters
It’s a worry for parents when children are picky eaters.
We all want the best for our kids, including healthy meals. But forcing kids to eat something they don’t like can be stressful for everyone concerned and only reinforces their dislike of certain foods. But there are ways to help your children learn to love food. Here are some handy tips that will encourage your fussiest family member to tuck in.
Tips to make food tastier
Sweet and salty: Children are fond of sweet or salty foods. We don’t recommend adding sugar or salt to your child’s food but caramelized onions, bacon bits or cooking veg in low-sodium broth can make your fussy eaters more willing to try it. If they like spices, try adding some mild curry powder.
Stealth vegetables: Finely shred courgettes, celery and carrot into a tomato-based pasta sauce and they will practically melt away. You can also use this as a pizza topping. The same applies to a curry sauce. You can hide many kinds of veg, even fruit, in a curry.
Smoothies: Take a handful of spinach, kale, carrot or shredded beetroot. Use dark berries to disguise the colour and banana or pineapple for sweetness.
Cakes: Carrot cake is a great way to hide carrots. You can also substitute pureed veg in place of oil or butter. I have cooked chocolate brownies containing courgette and pumpkin and my kids have been none the wiser.
Cheese it: Most kids like cheese and adding melted cheese or cheese sauce to a vegetable dish is a perfect way to make it more appetizing. For extra taste, why not add bacon bits? Choose cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan or whatever their favourite cheese is and let them help themselves.
Tips to encourage interest in food
Cook with your kids: Involve your fussy eaters in the cooking process. Let them crack eggs, bake cakes and show them how different foods are made. You may have a future celebrity chef on your hands.
Grow your own: Give your child their own vegetable patch and show them how to grow vegetables from seed. They will be so proud of their home-grown produce they are sure to want to eat it.
Go shopping: Take your child to the local farmer’s market and let them choose some vegetables to take home. Or bring them to a “Pick your own” fruit farm. If you are lucky enough to live by the sea, head to your local fish market and show your child there is more to seafood than fish fingers.
Healthy snacks: Like adults, children can eat food “just because it’s there.” With this in mind, hide the biscuits and keep a bowl of fruit in plain sight. Encourage them to help themselves and give them plenty of choice.
Tips to make mealtimes enjoyable
Shape up: Alphabet spaghetti, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and smiley face potato shapes are all big favourites with kids. Why not do the same with healthy foods? Use cookie-cutters to cut vegetables and fruit into shapes or make funny faces on their plate with food. Making food look like something else can make it more appealing to fussy eaters.
Dinner date: A great way to encourage your child to try new foods is to have a friend eat with them. If your child sees their friend eating everything on the plate they may do the same thing.
Just do it: We know that giving children choice can help them to be independent but it can also nurture a nation of picky eaters. Instead of asking your child what they want to eat, just make and serve it.
One family, one meal: Cooking the same meal for the whole family means less work and expense while encouraging better eating habits for all round. You may encounter some resistance to start with but stand your ground. It will pay off.
Make meal time a family affair: Family members can have varied schedules, which means everyone eating at different times. If you can make at least one meal a day an occasion where the whole family sits down together, your child will appreciate mealtimes and may be more open to trying new foods.