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  http://www.foodnetwork.com/cooking-with-kids/package/index.html and http://www.parents.com/recipes/cooking/with-kids/. 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.

Benefits of Eating as a Family

Here are a few reasons to make eating as a family a priority:

  • Children learn valuable life skills – There is benefit in children learning how to prepare and cook food, as well as how to clean the table. This sounds crazy, but I have fond memories of washing and drying dishes after meals at my grandparents’ house. Maybe these are fond memories because we had a dishwasher at home.
  • It’s a chance to reconnect socially – Eating together regularly gives families an opportunity to check in with each other, share their day and laugh together. As a basic, this is time to teach children how to carry conversations and how to ask and answer questions.
  • Build and share family traditions – While this may be a small piece, it’s a chance to pass along blessings and prayers. In some families, this can be a time to share recipes.
  • You can model healthy eating habits – Parents tend to provide children a wider range of foods when families sit and eat together. Modeling healthy eating habits is a nice, low key way to encourage them to eat.
  • You can teach and practice manners – Table manners are a learned skill that’s best taught over time with lots of repetition. Try to make this fun with related storybooks and games.
  • It’s related to better long term childhood outcomes – Children who regularly eat at least five meals a week with their families show higher academic scores, lower rates of later behavior problems and lower rates of obesity.

To learn more about these ideas and ways to avoid picky eating habits and mealtime battles join me for my workshop on Managing Mealtimes & Picky Eaters, September 5 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

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