My daughter loves to cook with me in the kitchen. She enjoys preparing recipes as well as coming up with ideas for her own recipes. When she grows up, she wants to be a baker and own her own bakery (she’s six, so of course this is always subject to change). The problem is, she doesn’t really like trying new things. She was part of the inspiration for my blog, Chef PickyKid and Me.
My daughter wasn’t always picky; when she was a toddler she would eat just about anything I gave her, and there wasn’t much she didn’t like. But at approximately age 4 everything changed. Suddenly, she stopped eating the foods she always loved and all but refused to try anything new. I was told it was just a phase and that she would grow out of it, but two years later we’re still battling over trying new food and adding more variety to her diet. I’ve tried many, many (many, many…you get the point) things to encourage her to try new foods, and I have found a few that have been successful.
Do you have a picky eater in your home? If so, here are some tips for encouraging your picky eater to try new food:
1. Don’t force it. This is probably the single most important tip I can offer. Forcing a picky eater to try something new will cause conflict and frustration at the dinner table, not to mention they won’t like what they’re trying and won’t want to try it again, simply because they were forced to eat it.
2. Involve them in the process. Involving your children in meal planning and preparation gives them a sense of accomplishment, and they enjoy contributing. When they are involved in the process, they’re more interested in trying what they’ve prepared. Let your picky eater choose a new meal to prepare, then let them be “in charge” of preparing it (with your help, of course).
Rachael Ray has a cookbook called “Cooking Rocks: Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids” that is designed especially for kids of all ages. The book is categorized by age group with lots of “kid friendly” recipes and cooking tips, as well as colorful pictures and illustrations. It’s a good cook book to purchase if you would like to involve your picky eater in the meal planning process. I like most of the recipes in the book; some of the recipes aren’t the healthiest choices, but you can always swap ingredients for healthier options.
3. Keep trying. Your picky eater may not try it the first time…or the second time, but keep trying. If you keep trying to introduce new food at the dinner table, eventually they will try it, often for no other reason than sheer curiosity.
4. Options. It’s natural for parents to worry that if their children don’t eat what is being served they won’t get the nutrition they need. This often leads parents to skip trying new foods and rely on the foods they know their picky eater will eat. Instead of giving your picky eater a plate full of new items to try or abandoning new foods altogether , give them at least one thing you know they enjoy eating, and at least one new item. They won’t always try the new item, but sometimes they will. Trying even one new food a week or a month is a success in my book.
5. Don’t fuss. Even when I give my picky eater options, she doesn’t always try them. I used to beg, plead, prod, or even bribe her to try the new item on her plate…to no avail. In retrospect, I think she refused my requests because she enjoyed the attention, or “the game” of me asking and her saying no. So, I stopped making a big deal of it. I put it on her plate, and if she tried it, great. If not, I didn’t mention it. At first, she would comment about this: “Mommy, I’m not going to try that!” or “Mommy, don’t ask me to try it because I won’t!” I would reply with “that’s fine, try it if you want, but if not, that’s okay too”. A funny thing happened after a few of these conversations; when I wasn’t focusing attention on it, she tried it all on her own.
6. Family style eating. Last year at Thanksgiving, my parents served up a family style dinner where everyone served up their own plates. To my amazement, my daughter tried EVERY SINGLE item. I had always served up her dinner plates because I figured it was a good way to control portion sizes, but she loved choosing her own items and portion sizes, and this encouraged her to try the items she chose. Since then, we frequently serve dinner family style, especially when there’s something new to try.
7. Positive Reinforcement-Research in child development consistently shows that children respond best to positive reinforcement. Tell them they did a great job, and that you’re proud of them when they try something new. This positive reinforcement will encourage them to continue trying new things. Another thing you can try is giving tangible reinforcement. For example, we recently implemented a new plan: for every five new items our picky eater tries, she will receive some type of reward. I try not to make these rewards food or toys, but privileges instead, like staying up an extra ½ hour on the weekend or reading an extra book before bed. This allows her to make the decision; she can choose to try them or not try them, but ultimately the reward depends on trying new foods, so this is an incentive for her.
Encouraging picky eaters to try new foods can be a challenging and sometimes frustrating task. Just remember that dinner is a time for family to come together and enjoy each other’s company, not to have conflict over what’s being served. Enjoy this time with your family at the dinner table; it may be the most important time of the day.
Purchase Cooking Rocks: Rachael Ray 30 Minute Meals for Kids in the Daily Dish Shop