Picture a mom enthusiastically saying, “Here comes the airplane” as she tries to spoon-feed her child, only to get rejected. Is this scenario a tad too familiar? We enjoy taking videos and pictures to capture the moments when babies smile after we feed them solid food. For us, we also feel happy when our children feel happy with what he/she is eating.
And understandably, we feel sad and maybe even frustrated if our children show disgust and avoidance with certain foods. This can also worry us because not eating enough or not eating food may cause malnutrition and health problems, especially on young children.
But fear not, just like other parenting woes, there are ways on how you can hack through picky eaters. But first, you must know what is the reason behind the dreaded picky eating.
Reasons for Picky Eating
There are many reasons why kids resort to being extra choosy when it comes to food. Maybe they feel already full from the calories they got from junk food and soda. Or perhaps, the environment is too distracting or uncomfortable to enjoy meal time. Other reasons may also be from physical changes that may cause discomfort like a toothache. However, some children might be feeling really ill, and they’re not just reasoning with you to not eat their veggies.
As we grow older, our sense of smell and taste are not going to be as intense as those of younger children. Therefore, what might be slightly bitter to us might be really yucky to your little one. Nonetheless, follow your instincts if you feel like there might be other reasons why your child is picky when it comes to feeding time. Ask your pediatrician whenever you are in doubt.
Hacks for Picky Eaters
Offer Limited But Inclusive Food Options
Let us use this analogy: if you ask your child to choose between a pet dog or cat, he/she will probably answer fish. Sometimes, our little ones like to challenge us, and their desire for independence usually makes them stubborn. And this is also true when it comes to meal times.
Instead of laying out the extremes on both ends, offer more choices for him/her to choose from. For example, let’s say you offer him/her broccoli and chicken. Chances are, your child will choose the latter and ignore the broccoli. The reason for this is because there are no choices between the two. What you want is to make them think they have control of their choices, but you’re also pushing them to choose your desired outcome. If you are only giving options on both extremes, your child will eventually notice that you’ll give in to their request.
Another example is when you want your child to eat his/her beans, but he/she is refusing to. You might end up getting frustrated and punish your child by forcing him/her to eat, which is not solving the situation. Instead, set your little one to succeed by making your request easier. Instead of just beans, add more veggies in his/her plate. Perhaps he/she will find one and then try to ask you if he/she can eat this instead.
At these instances, don’t be afraid to settle for that request. You want your child to not think of eating what he don’t like as a punishment. But rather, you want this experience associated with positive emotions. Remember that your goal here is to inspire him/her to try foods that he/she usually pushes away.
Even if it’s just a bite or two, make sure to celebrate it because a slow appreciation of food is always better than none. In the long run, you will notice that they’ll be more adventurous themselves and consider these “yucky” food items.
Give the Ingredient Makeovers
Now that you hack your way to your child’s behaviors and way of thinking, the next factor that you should modify is the food themselves. Specifically, everything from the food’s appearance and taste is all essential deciding factors, especially with picky eaters.
First, the way that the meal looks can affect how tempting it will be for us to try it. Even as an adult, it is without a doubt that food presentation is what makes us want to try something off the menu. With kids, you have to be extra creative to make it more enticing to try.
The easiest thing that you can do is by turning a mix of fruits and veggies into a smoothie. With the right combination, your child can end up enjoying leafy greens and apples. Maybe even put it in a groovy-looking glass to make it more exciting to try.
However, if a green smoothie is too extreme for your picky eater, quickly blend some ice, milk, bananas, berries, and spinach, and you’ll have a delicious smoothie that even adults won’t pass. Think milkshakes without the extra sugars, but instead healthy fiber and vitamins.
Other than sneaking in veggies on dessert-like shakes, you can also modify the main ingredients themselves. For example, roasted veggies are sweeter with a tender interior and crispy exterior compared to boiled ones. Keep in mind that the way you’re cooking each product affects not just its flavor, but also its texture.
Besides incorporating healthy foods in typical kid-approved dishes, you can also make the dish itself solely from your chosen ingredient. They can vary from pastas and nuggets made from vegetables and seafood. And to step it up, why not follow a certain theme depending on their current favorites, e.g., dino-shaped nuggets for jurassic-loving kiddos.
Present the food in such a way that children will get excited about trying them out. Oh, and a quick secret, giving the foods interesting names makes them more appealing for kids. Perhaps calling cauliflower as crunchy clouds might do the trick.
Involve Your Kids in Shopping and Cooking
Lastly, bringing your kids from shopping up to cooking the meals makes eating more enticing. They can choose from healthy options in the supermarket, and you can teach them where their food comes from before it turns into their favorite dish.
Cooking itself is not just a bonding activity for the whole family. But kids will appreciate the food more if they get to prepare it themselves. Of course, make sure that the tasks that you’ll give them should be age-appropriate as well to ensure their safety.
Nonetheless, even basic washing of ingredients and mixing them in a bowl can become an exciting task for kids anyways. Who knows? It might also spark their passion for food. Picky eaters can still become adventurous eaters. You just have to wait and be patient with every approach.