Try some of these simple, kid-tested tricks for happier mealtimes.
My younger son is usually the toughest customer at the dinner table every night.
But when he was about five years old, he asked me, “Mommy, what’s a picky eater?” I was glad he didn’t know what it was, because that meant he was never labeled as one.
So while I don’t advocate for calling kids “picky”, I do use the term here on my blog because it’s one we all know.
It sums up the garden variety food refusals that a lot of parents encounter with their young kids–refusals that can make mealtime hard. (Learn more about what might be going through your child’s head during this stage: What Your Child Wants to Tell You About Picky Eating.)
So if you’re in that boat with your kids right now, here are 10 tricks that just might help. I’ve used all of these with my own kids!
1. Make “Zebra Pasta”
If your family isn’t sold on whole wheat pasta, mix half and half with white pasta and give it a silly name.
2. Serve veggies in unexpected way
At snack time or as a pre-dinner appetizer, put some veggies in an unexpected container, like a glass, mug, or measuring cup. That curveball may be enough to make them more enticing.
3. Or keep veggies big
This is another way that serving veggies in unexpected ways can lead to happy results! Keeping veggies big–even leaving the green tops on carrots and celery–can be fun for kids. I used to ask my son if he wanted his carrot big “like a bunny” or stalk of celery big “like the Wonder Pets”.
4. Pack a checkerboard sandwich
This fun lunchbox surprise is a good compromise if your kids like white bread but you want them to eat whole grain. Use one slice of white bread, one slice of whole grain, then cut into six pieces and flip three of them to create a checkerboard.
5. Put food on a stick
I don’t know about your kids, but mine love eating stuff off a stick: fruit, meat, or veggies. Pick up a bag of wooden skewers at the store–or use lollipop sticks, which aren’t as sharp. This can work for snacks like fruit or for main courses like chicken kebabs.
6. Puree onions into a paste
This is a Real Mom Nutrition reader favorite!
I like using onion in recipes, but my kids don’t like finding pieces of slippery onion in their food. So I quarter an onion and puree it in my mini chopper until it becomes a paste. You get all the onion flavor but without the onion bits. I sometimes make multiple batches and freeze them flat in zip-top bags.
7. Use white pepper instead of black
I heard this idea from a friend and thought it was genius, especially since my younger son’s pepper radar is always on high alert. If you’ve got a child (like mine) who will balk at a food if there are visible pepper flecks–but you still want the pepper flavor–swap out black pepper for white, which disappears more easily into food.
8. Roast veggies
Roasting makes veggies crisp and brings out their natural sweetness. Roast broccoli, carrots, asparagus, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, you name it. Just toss veggies in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until brown and crisp. Here’s my recipe for Kid-Approved Crispy Roasted Broccoli.
9. Create a buffet
Kids like having control, so try putting meal components in dishes and letting everyone choose what they want. They may not take everything–and that’s okay. But giving choices reduces the pressure on them, which may lessen some of their resistance.
10. Have fun!
My free Try New Foods Chart is designed to make kids excited about tasting new foods and reward them for being brave (but stick to non-food rewards, like extra screen time, extra books a bedtime, or picking the movie for family movie night). Get your free copy.
For more ways to add fun to dinner, including playing “restaurant” and other games, read 6 Ways to Add Fun to Family Dinner.
Do you have any tried-and-true tips that work for your kids? Please share!
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