Creative Ways to Encourage New Foods

So many parents of young children note their children are becoming more picky about eating by the day. They describe a child who was a pretty good eater at two years old and is now narrowing their choices and becoming more demanding. There are so many ways to encourage children to eat and try new foods without adding pressure. Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage children to help with the shopping – Let little ones draw pictures of the foods on your shopping list, and let older ones write the list for you. At the store let them pick which type of apples or grapes to buy, maybe let them pick a cereal or flavors of yogurt. Encourage reading skills by having them keep track of items on the list. Encourage math skills by teaching them to weigh fruits and vegetables, teaching them to compare prices per weight or keep a running tally for the cost of the list.
  • Encourage children to help prepare food – At home, have children wash the vegetables or cut the fruit as they can. Have them butter rolls and serve green beans. Overall, involve them in the food process.
  • Offer new foods when your children are hungry – If they eat really well at breakfast, offer new foods then or offer new foods as a appetizer before dinner.
  • Offer foods in a wide range of colors – Adding colors is easiest done with fruits and vegetables.
  • Try fun, new, child-friendly recipes – There are so many great cookbooks for kids including Family Fun: Cooking with Kids by Cook, Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual by Klutz and Kitchen for Kids by Low. There are also child-friendly cookbooks (meaning meals you make that kids will love) including Cooking Light: The Ultimate Kid Approved Cookbook by Cooking Light or No Whine with Dinner by Weiss. There are also great website including and This list is just for starters, there are many others in each category.
  • Make smoothies they love – Throw in a vegetable or wheat germ on the side. You might try recipes from 201 Healthy Smoothies and Juices for Kids by Roskelley.
  • Make food “art,” let them play with food then eat – This could be standing up broccoli to make trees, making small snowmen with mashed potatoes, using big cookie cutters to make shape sandwiches or letting them make ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisens on top) and then EATING the fun.
  • Build on foods they already like – If your child loves ketchup or ranch dressing, go really wide on all the foods they might be able to dip in. You might also look for cookbooks that build on a favorite ingredient such as The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook by Zalben or The Cereal Lovers Cookbook by Chattman.
  • Teach them about the food process – Visit the farm, take a tour of a grocery store, teach them about where food comes from and how food is made.
  • Teach them about nutrition – Teach them about the food pyramid, about healthy choices and portions.
  • Offer new foods in a container they can hold – When you can, offer the new foods in a bag or container they can hold.
  • Offer it in other novel ways – Try new foods on a stick, serve small foods with toothpicks for utensils or serve small portions in an ice cube tray (divided into small squares).
  • And when all that fails, I am fine with hiding ingredients – To cook and hide ingredients at home you might read The Sneaky Chef by Lapine or Deceptively Delicious by Seinfeld. You might also take them to Robeks and try a wide range of their smoothies, including the ones that have vegetables or start experiementing with your own smoothies at home.

Mealtime Question

Parent Question: My four-year-old is not eating at the table. He wants both my husband and I to help him eat and is very fussy; he won’t try mashed potatoes or anything. It’s a constant battle as he wants toys at the table when eating, like something to keep him occupied rather than eating. He does eat pasta and fish sticks, but we sometimes have to literally feed him, so it gets eaten. I know this is a bad habit, but it’s awful getting him to eat much of anything. It’s become such a constant battle that I now hate mealtimes. Please help!

Answer: There are so many answers to this one. I am going to give a few guidelines and point you in the direction of a great book for more info. The book is How to Get Your Kid to Eat But Not Too Much by Ellyn Satter. She wrote another book and there is also a book by Elbrit, but I like this one.
Guidelines: Parents are in charge of what is offered, children are in charge of what and how much of that they eat. Control what is offered; once it is on the table let him pick and choose. If he fills up on fruit and wants more, ok, you offered it. If that is all he will eat, offer it less often and other things more. Go as wide as you can. Put in those ‘only foods’ once a month so he can’t rely on them. The idea is to let go of the battle. You don’t want to be battling over food intake once it is on the table. Lessen the emotion; emotion fuels power struggles.
That is the short answer for a long question. I do have a two-hour workshop on managing mealtimes that includes all this on pickiness.

>Missing Preschool Days

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

My four year old son, Nathan, is a very picky eater. I have read and tried all sorts of different tactics… unsuccessfully. I’m sure some (possibly much) is control related, but I’m not sure some of the issue isn’t sensory.

I learned of a Picky Eater Group through a local private practice. They claim this class is geared exactly for kids like Nathan, and I’m ready to try anything. However, they have changed the times of the class, and it is now offered during Nathan’s class time at preschool. He is in four half-days a week and would miss one day of school each week for the eight weeks that the class runs. I would like your opinion on whether you think I should enroll in the Picky Eater Group. Would that be too disruptive missing school? His eating issues have not impacted his health, and the pediatrician is convinced it is all a control thing. But it impacts my life greatly because he can’t sit down to a regular meal. My goal is to get him eating the same food as the rest of the family. I hope to learn as much from the group as he does.

Mother of two, ages 1 and 4 years old

Dear Elaine,

Take the specialized class! It is preschool, and missing one day a week for eight weeks will be fine. The potential benefits far outweigh the extra day in preschool. I wouldn’t try to make it back for that one hour a day – no need to wear everyone out for one hour, and he and you both may need time to relax following the group.

I also wouldn’t make the fact that he is missing school for a day each week to do this a big deal with him. If the group isn’t fun, then he has another point to his argument for not going – that he is missing preschool. Just put it on the calendar as the plan for the day rather than thinking there is a debate to be had over attendance.
Good Luck with this!

Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

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