Something that I hear almost on a daily basis from parents is that their kids are picky, they can’t get them to eat any vegetables, and they feel each meal is a battle. Often times, parents (with the very best intentions) over-complicate meal times and make them more stressful than they ever needed to be.
- Avoid a power struggle- Parents and caregivers often overlook one glaring fact when discussing the health of their kids and express concern for them not accepting vegetables. They often overlook the fact that kids control almost NOTHING in their day-to-day lives, aside from what they put in their mouth and swallow; so sometimes it’s not that they don’t want to eat that tomato, they may just want to gain power over a single decision in their day and that seems to be their only opportunity. Offer fruits and vegetables with each meal, but never force them on kids, instead ensure to them that it’s fine if they choose not to eat it that meal- IT’S THEIR CHOICE. Using those 3 words, or better yet, not saying anything at all, will make them MUCH more likely to eat them, because they are choosing to do so on their own terms.
- Get kids involved in menu planning– If you’re feeling fatigued when it comes to menu planning or would love to make a meal no one complains about, ask the kids to help out! Planning the menu for the coming week or two can help decrease stress associated with meal times, enable them to give their input on what they want to eat, and decrease any protest about what was made. You can ask kids for their suggestions and if they run out of ideas, you can make a fun game of picking a family favorite out of a Ziploc bag or hat. Just write down you family’s favorite meals on small pieces of paper and have your child pick one randomly. The element of surprise will add a fun element to a seemingly tedious task. Also, if their suggestions are less-than-healthy, you can always find a way to make healthier, homemade versions. There’s no reason why a wholesome macaroni and cheese made with whole wheat pasta, low sodium cheese, and some broccoli can’t be a part of a healthy diet! See our recipe below for healthy, homemade pizza!
- Get rid of unhealthy fall–backs in the freezer and pantry– Many times, parents will report that their kids will “only eat chicken nuggets” no matter how many times they have offered other foods. One issue may lie with the manner they are offering the other foods, the other issue is that kids are very smart and love routine, so if protesting during dinner, then watching mom or dad pull chicken nuggets out of the freezer to heat them up becomes a regular part of meal times. They know that they are there and simply refusing other foods will result in them eating some salty nuggets, so they patiently wait, as kids often are much more patient than parents. Parents often fear their kids will starve themselves if they refuse to give them those foods, which is 100% untrue. Kids will eventually get hungry enough to eat the healthier options prepared, but changing up what is at home is an essential part of that. If there are no longer any chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, or frozen sandwich pockets for them to eat, they will eventually realize that and stop asking for them. Not having that cushion for them in the freezer or pantry will change the dynamic during meals and remove the temptation.
- Go grocery shopping together- Letting kids get involved in picking foods out will increase their interest in and willingness to try new things. A fun place to try new fruits and vegetables is your local farmers market, where almost everything is available to sample and the flavors of the freshly picked produce are at their peak.
- Remain calm! It can be frustrating to make a nice meal and then not have anyone enjoy it. However, it may simply be they are not in the mood. Showing your negative emotions may possibly cause a child to associate negative feeling towards particular foods. Remaining calm and unfazed, especially during meal times will eliminate any unhealthy behaviors with food. Also, keeping conversations light and fun will result in a happier child who is more willing to sit down and have a nice meal than one who is upset and feels trapped at the table with someone who is making them feel uncomfortable. Meal times should not be used as disciplinary times, but as bonding opportunities.
- Try again, without any pressure– If your child refused broccoli the first two times it was offered, it’s hard not to assume they do not like it, however, research has shown it takes some kids up to 15-20 times of trying the same food to decide whether or not it is one they care to continue eating. If there is no pressure or force on them to eat foods, especially fruits and vegetables and they are just a regular part of each meal they are free to eat, or not eat, kids will be much more likely to choose on their own to eat them. Don’t fret if your once tomato loving toddler suddenly wants nothing to do with them, kids go through phases of loving and not caring so-much for almost every food. Leaving the pressure off and continue to prepare foods for them to continue trying regularly will likely result in them remembering how much they once enjoyed that food.
- Change up cooking styles– Often times, parents will say they try to sneak finely chopped vegetables into their kid’s food while cooking, but the kids will remove them and discard them. They will report that their kids eat baby carrots at school, but will pick them out of rice at home. Sometimes the issue lies not with the food, but they way it was prepared. Kids especially often prefer crunchy vegetables to those that have been cooked. So if they’re not huge fans of steamed broccoli, but enjoy it raw with some hummus dip, continue preparing it and offering it raw! I personally am not the biggest fan of raw cauliflower, but absolutely love it roasted, so I would not be happy if someone continued to try to feed me raw cauliflower, though I said I did not prefer it that way. Kids want to feel listened to, especially when it comes to their meals.
- Rule out possible sensory issues- Once-in-a-while, a child has a strong negative reaction to eating fruits and vegetables; they may gag, vomit, or feel very uncomfortable even looking at or touching these foods. In these cases, it is very important to look for signs that the child might have a true, diagnosable sensory issue, which may warrant evaluation and treatment with an occupational therapist. Click here to learn more about signs of sensory disorders.
Always remember, not every day will be perfect, and treats are fine once in a while (every 1-2 weeks). Try to relax and be a healthy role model for kids to encourage them to have a life-long healthy relationship with food!
A fan favorite for even the choosiest eater is a homemade healthy pizza. Here is our simple recipe for you to enjoy for your next pizza night!
Makes 1 pizza
1 whole wheat tortilla (read ingredients to ensure they aren’t made with any hydrogenated oils, aka- harmful trans fats)
Low sodium, no sugar added tomato sauce
1 oz mozzarella cheese (can be skipped for preference, allergies, or vegan diet)
Variety of seasonal vegetables (bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives, spinach, etc.)
Healthy, low sodium protein if desired- avoid pepperoni, sausages, and bacon as they are very high in salt (sodium)
Assemble pizzas (enabling kids to make their own will result in better acceptance!)
In a toaster oven or regular oven, bake the pizza on 300 for 5-8 minutes, until tortilla is slightly crispy
Enjoy your healthy pizza with your favorite fruit.