Raising a picky eater can feel like an uphill battle, and meals always come with trade-offs. How can you get Ada to eat something NOW, without setting her up for a lifetime of chicken nuggets and pizza (and without dinner turning into an hour-long drama)?
There’s no magic bullet or “super-parent secret” that everyone else is in on…but there are a few adjustments you can make to help encourage, support and nurture your picky eater—not just for dinner today, but into the new year and as they grow into a healthy, independent kid in the years to come.
As you set your New Year’s resolutions, add these five to your list! You’ll be ready to battle food refusals with a little more success and a lot more nutrition.
1. Make Your Kitchen a Kid Zone
If your New Year’s resolutions include the KonMari method of decluttering, this is a great way to harness that tidying-up energy while also helping your picky eater feel more familiar in the kitchen.
To make your kitchen more kid-friendly, set aside a specific area that “belongs” to your little one. (A pantry shelf, ground-level cabinet, rollable kitchen organizer or even recycled cardboard boxes all work well.) Label it and then load it with everything your kid might need to eat and help out in the kitchen:
- Kid-friendly plates and silverware
- Their favorite picky eater tools, like character picks
- Healthy, pre-portioned snacks
How can this help your picky eater? Since the causes of picky eating often revolve around environmental discomfort as much as any particular food, changing that environment can be a surprising step in the right direction. The more familiar your kid becomes with the overall meal prep and eating environment, the better.
And as an added bonus for busy parents, you’ll no longer have to be the official guardian of the snacks. Your kids will have nutritious, pre-approved snacks within easy reach and will be empowered to choose them on their own.
2. Get Your Picky Eater Involved With Meals
Toddlers and kids are always finding new ways to express their independence, and some picky eaters refuse food just to make that independence known. So instead of battling that iron will, work with it!
Get your little one involved with meals before it’s time to actually eat, and they’ll feel a greater sense of control and independence. Hopefully (but definitely not always), this will make your child more willing to eat what they’ve helped make.
Here are a few ways to get your picky eater involved:
- Your kid chooses one ingredient for the meal and you choose another.
- Your kid chooses one side dish and you choose another.
- Your kid helps wash veggies, mix ingredients or plate meals.
- Your kid selects their preferred plate and tableware.
- You and your kid go to the grocery store together and your kid picks out the fresh produce.
- If you order kids meal delivery from Nurture Life, let your kid pick next week’s meals.
To make this a resolution that you can actually measure over time, try setting a goal with a specific number attached. Maybe you’ll aim to involve your kid in mealtime once a week, twice a week or even just once a month. (Small steps add up, so don’t feel bad about “not doing enough.”)
To track your goal, you can use your own bullet journal or calendar app, or you can make your calendar part of the fun for your picky eater!
Make or print a poster to hang in your kitchen’s new “kid zone,” and use it to keep track of what your kids have done or plan to do in the kitchen. If you want to go all-out, try gamifying the calendar with stickers, points or other small rewards. Our recommendation is to keep these “rewards” small and secondary, so that the focus is more on the experience of mealtime than the prizes.
3. Talk About What You’re Eating
A big part of our mission at Nurture Life is to be open with our kids about what we’re eating. Sure, we do occasionally hide the veggies…but the ultimate goal is to teach our kids healthy eating habits that will accompany them as they grow.
So how to do it? Communication, communication, communication:
- As much as possible, give your child plenty of advance notice about what you’ll be eating. Fewer surprises are always better.
- Talk about why we eat certain foods more than others, focusing on the connection between what we eat and how we feel. (Speaking in terms of your child’s interests, like swimming or dancing, can be really helpful.)
- Get input from your child about future meals. You may not want to honor every request for pizza and ice cream, but you can use this opportunity to brainstorm healthier alternatives or demonstrate the idea of treats in moderation.
- If your picky eater is refusing a new food, ask why! Use encouraging, non-judgmental questions like “How does it taste?” or “What does the texture feel like?”
The specifics of this New Year’s resolution for parents will depend on your family’s schedule and routine.
You can try to create a numeric goal if you’re very data-minded, or you can keep things vague and laid back with a simple sticky note to remind yourself to talk about food more.
4. Make a Schedule for New Foods
It’ll be easier to introduce new foods for picky eaters if you have a pre-set list to refer to. It doesn’t have to be formal or super-detailed, either. Just map out a general guideline of how often you’d like to introduce new foods to your child, along with a list of some possible ingredients to try. A little research now can help keep you on track throughout the year, even when your schedule gets overwhelmingly full.
You can set any schedule you want, but we like introducing new foods every 2–3 weeks. This gives your child plenty of time to try a new ingredient without getting overwhelmed. And since it can take up to 15 times for a picky eater to accept a new food, “slow but steady” is key.
Here’s an example of what an informal schedule might look like:
|New Ingredient||Homemade Recipe Options||Nurture Life’s Ready-to-Eat Options|
Be sure to let your little one try the ingredient a couple different ways. Even if you don’t plan to cook the meals yourself, you can combine the new food with different dipping sauces, seasonings, side dishes and presentations.
5. Commit to It
With enough persistence, you can change your picky eater’s mind, even about the dreaded broccoli or the much-refused fish. Persistence really is key! However, if you’ve tried all these tips and don’t know where to turn next, Nurture Life is here to help. Our Picky Eater Bootcamp program provides 8 actionable steps to help parents and their picky eaters. The program gives you access to dietitian-developed tips and special offers that can help make your kid a healthier, more adventurous eater.
Don’t forget to reward yourself for your efforts, too. Maybe a nice chocolate bar, a fancy coffee or a 30-minute massage squeezed into a busy weekend. A little self-care can go a long way in refreshing a tired spirit and recommitting yourself to the picky eating battle.
If you have any questions about how to talk about food with your child or how to introduce new foods for picky eaters, please reach out to Nurture Life’s registered dietitians at firstname.lastname@example.org.