Parents, I know there are few things more frustrating than putting all that work into shopping for and preparing a lovely meal, setting it on the table, and then having your child or children (let alone your partner!) refuse to even taste it.
As the parent of a formerly picky eater, I also know that there is hope, although it requires lots of time and patience (and probably a few screams or tears). This aforementioned child now snacks on roasted seaweed, makes himself chocolate, cherry chia smoothies, and enjoys Swiss Chard with Garlic and Parmesan cheese—I never would have imagined this was possible when he was younger. One thing I’ve learned is that it takes many kids 10 or more tastes of a food before they will start to enjoy it.
Over the years, I have also found some incredibly helpful tools and techniques to encourage children to try new foods. Today I am sharing some of my favorites. If you’ve found (or created) other tips, tricks or tools, please share them with other Scramblers in the comments below!
How to Get Picky Eaters to Try New Foods
Toothpicks, cocktail forks, and ketchup
Some food is more likely to make it into kids’ mouths if it has a fun vehicle to get there—either something fun to dip it in, like ketchup, barbecue sauce or ranch dressing, or something cool to dip it with, like toothpicks or cocktail forks (beware of these sharp objects with babies and toddlers, of course).
Continue to offer foods
If your child turns her nose up at a food, don’t focus on it too much and just serve it again the next week. Kids seem to have food moods and it’s best not to get discouraged or stop serving any food until they’ve had plenty of chances to like it.
Many parents tell me that when they eat with other families, especially with older kids and more adventurous eaters, their kids will eat foods they would never touch at home.
Make it fun
When our kids were younger, we would sometimes make funny faces out of the food on their plate and dare them to eat an eye or an ear. My husband would also tell them that green beans made their fingers strong and if they ate 10 of them they could push him over using just their fingers (a hilarious pratfall would then follow, of course).
One bite rule (also called an “adventure bite”)
How is a child supposed to know if he or she likes something if they won’t even taste it? Many families have success with this technique, where each child needs to try everything on their plate, and takes an “adventure bite.” Keep up your end of the bargain by not making them take more than one bite, if they don’t want to.
You can also make this one easier by being gentle in your definition of a bite. For some kids who are very anxious, the first step might be just having the food on their plate, then the next time it might be touching it, then licking it, then putting it in their mouths, then chewing and spitting out into a paper towel, etc.
Keep focus off food
Keep mealtime a positive experience by focusing on the company and conversation, rather than who is eating how much of what. Family dinners are about so much more than the food. In addition, if the kids are relaxed they will also observe you eating all kinds of different things. This modeling is very important.
Involve them in shopping, gardening, cooking, and meal prep
Often picky eating is about power and control, and if a child has some say in what the family will be eating and how it is prepared, they are more likely to eat the food at the table. You could even ask your child to tell the family about what dish they selected or made to increase their pride and sense of accomplishment in the meal.
Don’t label them as picky eaters, leave the window open, and try my favorite line
If a child tries but doesn’t like a new food, I always say, “Well, your taste buds are maturing so maybe next time you’ll like it,” or, if they don’t want to try something they didn’t like before, I’ll say, “Your taste buds have matured as you’ve gotten older, so maybe this time you’ll like it.”
Shower them with praise for trying
Make a big deal when your child tries a new food and doesn’t say yuck. We had great success with keeping a list of healthy foods our kids liked tacked to the ‘fridge, and whenever they would think a new food was good or even okay, we would add it to the list with much fanfare.
I know it can be incredibly frustrating to live with a picky eater. I encourage you to try to remember that healthy eating is a continuum, and some kids seem to be born with adventurous taste buds, while others are naturally more cautious eaters. Try to emphasize the positive, exercise patience and remember that mealtime is about so much more than the food we serve, it’s about the lasting connections and memories we make.