We all know a grown adult who still refuses to eat vegetables and whose entire diet consists of tacos and oven-baked French fries from the freezer section. Picky eating can be a lifelong habit that really digs its feet in during childhood. As I’m sure most parents can attest to, once your kid has sampled the childhood delicacy of chicken fingers and mac & cheese, it can be difficult to convince them to branch out and try anything else. Further still, sometimes their food choices seem to have absolutely no rhyme or reason. One day they love spaghetti and want nothing else for as long as they live and then suddenly, they can’t stomach the mere sight of it. They refuse food because of its color, texture, or they’ve indiscriminately decided they don’t like something when you know, for a fact, they’ve never tried it before.
Long story short, the idea of developing a child with a diverse palate can seem like a fruitless endeavor, but we have a few little white "lies" that may just help you trick your kids into being healthy eaters without even knowing it.
1. Make Them Think Snack Time Is Fun
The inner child in me still gets excited about seeing a big pancake on my plate with a huge, chocolate chip smile and banana slice eyeballs; so imagine your actual child’s excitement when eating ants on a log (celery with a peanut butter spread with raisin “ants” on top), or using a fun cookie cutter shape for a make-believe sandwich avatar.
Allowing your kids to be involved in snack time by creating their own fun snack-venture encourages them to try new foods in fun ways as they’ll likely snack on a couple of carrots sticks or sneak a few blueberries during the preparation process. They’ll think they’re being sneaky, and you’ll just be glad they’re getting their servings of fruits and vegetables - it’s a win-win situation. If you’re struggling to think of great snack ideas that are healthy and fun, Valeria has shared all of her secrets for sweet and tangy to salty and savory in Snacks by Valeria Lipovetsky. Whenever possible, create a story with your snacks because no one prefers eating ants more than raisins quite like your toddler does.
2. Covertly Introduce New Foods & Tell Them They’re Just As Yummy
It’s inevitable that your child is going to have their tried-and-true favorite foods that they won't seem to stray from, and it’s a futile effort to try to eliminate those staples completely. You’re likely to have little luck with introducing a plate full of completely brand-new foods with nothing that’s familiar to them. Try introducing new foods slowly over time by mixing in new tries with their established favorites.
One or two new vegetables or protein sources per week can really add up over time in the quest for a well-balanced diet. Try not to force them to eat something new, just make it available for them and keep offering it over time. Eventually they might try it when it feels like it was their decision, rather than it feeling to them like it's forced on them.
3. Make Them Believe They’re In Control By Telling Them They’re In Control
Like all of us, children like to feel like they have a certain level of autonomy. That includes toddlers wanting to dress themselves in the morning, which usually ends with some adorable, if not comical, fashion choices and extends to the foods that they eat.
As guardians, it’s our job to make healthy choices available to them, but ultimately allow them to make the decision for themselves. This may mean asking your children “Which vegetable would you like with dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?” or simply making healthy snacks the readily available option when they come to the kitchen looking for fuel after a long afternoon of being a kid.
Having vegetables cut up into little snack size servings ready to eat or yogurt cups in the fridge will give your kids options to choose from with no wrong answers.
Smoothies are a great way to allow your kids to make their own “recipe” by throwing in all their favorite fruits into a blender to create something that's uniquely their own (but also jam packed with healthy fruits and maybe the odd vegetable). Smoothies can appease even the pickiest of eaters whether they drink it or eat it as a smoothie bowl with some granola, cereal, or whatever their little heart desires that day - it's their recipe.
4. Tell Them Meal Planning Is Fun!
In many households, there is a nightly debate whether to make separate meals to appease each of your picky eaters, or just make one meal for the entire family knowing full well it will leave at least one person stubbornly refusing to eat. Avoid this debacle by getting your kids involved in mealtime decisions. Introduce the concept of compromise by allowing your child(ren) to choose a dinner for one or two nights of the week. They may be more likely to eat their less desired food if they know they have one of their own favorites to mix into alternating bites or in the coming days. Whenever possible, plan meals out in advance and let the menu be known so there are no upsetting surprises when it’s time to sit down to dinner.
5. Tell Them You Eat Healthy, Too!
Kids are little sponges who are constantly absorbing the things they hear, but more than anything, they notice and mimic the things they see. You can tell your kids to eat their greens until you’re blue in the face but actually seeing you make healthy food choices and eating a well-balanced diet is always going to be the best way to get your kids to follow suit. This may mean throwing your phone across the room if your kids pop up behind you in order to hide the fact that the UberEats app is actually working, and not "permanently shut down" like you told your kids tens minutes ago when they asked for McFlurries. It's just the price you have to pay for health.
Show your kids that spinach isn’t yucky at all, and that fresh fish is even tastier than the fish stick variety. After all, how can you expect your kids to stick to making healthy choices if they’re not seeing their greatest teacher and mentor doing the same thing? If you’re finding it difficult to make healthy choices for yourself, try telling these "lies" to yourself, they work for kids of all ages.