If you have a child who is a fussy eater, you’re not alone. Picky eating is common among young kids. While pickiness is normal, it’s also important for children to develop a healthy relationship with food to avoid eating issues later in life. They also need to eat a balanced diet to get important nutrients for great oral and overall health.
So what can you do to get children to eat more than just PB&J or mac ‘n’ cheese? Here are some tips to help encourage them to try healthier foods.
25% of kids 18 months to 5 years old are picky eaters
2 to 4 year olds tend to be the pickiest
1. Be Patient
It’s not unusual for children to be hesitant about new foods. It’s often best to start with a small portion and not make a big deal about serving new food, so there’s no added pressure. Curiosity alone may be enough to get your child to try a new food. If your child won’t eat a certain food the first time, try again. They may prefer it prepared a different way.
2. Set a Great Example
It can help to sit down and eat with your children whenever possible and try new foods with them. If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to give them a try. Stay positive and try not to say you don’t like certain foods.
Encourage kids to eat foods that are great for oral health, including carrots, celery, apples and pears. Use descriptive, appealing words like sweet and crunchy. Let them know how strong and healthy they can be by eating these foods.
3. Make One Meal for the Whole Family
If you make separate meals for picky eaters, it doesn’t give them an incentive to try new foods. To make the meal more appealing for a fussy eater, leave out an ingredient they dislike. Give them their portion before adding that ingredient for the rest of the family.
4. Get the Child Involved
Children like to help select and prepare meals. And it makes them more likely to try new foods. Take your child shopping and let them pick fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Make it fun by challenging them to select a colorful rainbow of foods. Strawberries, carrots, yellow peppers, broccoli, blueberries and eggplant are just a few vibrant foods that are full of nutrients that are great for oral and overall health. Depending on their age, allow them to get involved in meal prep by rinsing fruits and veggies, stirring food or setting the table.
5. Get Creative
If you only serve a child’s favorites, they’ll likely think they don’t need to try new foods. It can help to pair the new food with one of your child’s go-to foods.
- Pair fruits and vegetables with healthy, tasty dips like low-sugar yogurt and hummus.
- Add cheese or make a cheesy soup as a way to introduce children to broccoli and cauliflower. Cheese provides tooth-strengthening calcium!
You can also easily disguise vegetables. For instance, chop peppers or grate carrots and add them to sauces and casseroles. Try sneaking some fruits or veggies into a smoothie.
Keep creativity in mind when you pack lunches for kids. In addition to fun shapes and healthy sauces, little surprises like notes and stickers make lunch more appealing. A joke, funny picture, compliment or encouragement to be a healthy eater will make kids smile.
6. Avoid Using Dessert to Negotiate
Bribing children with dessert to get them to eat other foods may send the message that it is more valuable than healthier choices. And be careful about labeling better choices as “healthy.” Children often assume healthy foods won’t taste good.
Sugary desserts can lead to cavities. Consider serving dessert only occasionally or stick to healthier treats like low-sugar yogurt and naturally sweet fruit. The calcium in yogurt and nutrients in fruit will help keep smiles and bodies healthy.
Children often grow out of picky eating behaviors around age 5. However, talk to your physician or dentist if you are concerned that your child is not getting the nutrients they need for a healthy smile and body.
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