Perfect time for a guest post on picky eaters, as I’m gearing up for my radio interview with “Better Food Choices.” Thanks to Katie Bugbee, the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert of Care.com, for this timely post about how to get picky kids to be less…picky!
Chicken Nuggets for Dinner Again? By Katie Bugbee
I have a love-hate relationship with chicken nuggets. They’re easy to make – and a sure way to get kids to eat. But there was a time when my kids thought chicken always came in breaded dino-shapes. And that needed to change.
When my babies first started eating solid food, I gave them healthy grown-up foods. They loved fish and veggies. They ate what I spoon fed them.
But at ages 3 and 5, they have their own opinions. And food is an area where they rule our roost. Until last year. That’s when I got grossed out by their food choices.
Pickiness is a big problem – and a common one – among kids. Food becomes a battle. We want our kids to be strong and healthy. And so we cave. Don’t want to eat it? Okay, I’ll make you a grilled cheese.
But we need to be stronger. I made a few changes last year, and am happy to say we’ve had a few success stories. Here is what I suggest you try to make your child a little less picky.
1. No other choices. First, you just have to stay firm that there is no other dinner. No snacks. No dessert. No toast. Nothing except what’s on your plate. Don’t want to eat it? We suggest you try it – otherwise you’ll be pretty hungry later. You might have a few nights where they literally don’t eat. But at bedtime they whine and beg for a sandwich. This sounds brutal. But saying that they should have had dinner is the best way to get them to eat what you make tomorrow night.
2. Limit the afternoon snack. If your kids have dinner at 5 like mine, don’t serve a snack after 3:30. And if you need to, make sure it’s not protein and fiber rich, which will fill them up, making them less likely to eat your meal.
3. Create a 3-bite rule. My kids can do what they want as long as they’ve had three bites of dinner. My 5-year old son has a 5-bite rule. This is always the amount of bites they have to take after they say they’re done. This rule enables them to have a bedtime snack or dessert of their choosing.
4. Serve small portions. Kids can get overwhelmed by a lot on their plate. Start small. A spoonful of each item will seem like they don’t have to eat much to clear their plate. They’re more likely to ask for more this way.
5. Let them add toppings. Dipping veggies and meats into sauces can make eating more fun (and tasty). So can sprinkling parmesan cheese on broccoli and pastas. This is the only way my kids eat salad – with “dip.” We offer ranch and Greek dressings, honey mustard, barbeque sauce — and they’ve helped significantly.
6. Make extra grownup dinner. My kids eat at 5, while my husband and I don’t get to eat until 7 or 8 at night. I try to prep our nightly meal the night before. Then I’ll either leave the recipe out for our nanny to make for all of us. Or, I’ll throw it together once the kids go to bed – and save the leftovers for their next dinner. Either way, we’re all eating one meal.
7. Make the meal less of a show. Because my husband and I don’t usually eat with the kids, one of us (myself or our nanny) is usually standing across from them while they eat at our kitchen counter. And it occurred to me, that their whining and carrying on was a performance – with us as their audience. But move us to the table with them – and things became a little more normal. Less theatrics, at least.
8. Eat together. Piggybacking off of the previous idea, I do try to have a family dinner every Sunday night, in which we all eat the same thing at 5:00. It’s nice to have the kids see us eat the same thing – and not complain about it.
9. Shop, cook and grow together. The more involved your kids are in picking their own meals, the more they’ll eat it. Go through recipes together. Take them grocery shopping. Then let them add ingredients to the pan or crock pot, mix and stir. If you have a garden, grow your vegetables for fresh and exciting eats.
Editor’s Note: Love Katie’s ideas…and think they could apply to kids of all ages. Try one a week, and the next 2 months could move your family toward more varied flexible meals.
Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert of Care.com. A busy working mother of two, she’s an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect babysitter.
Photo provided by Care.com via Shutterstock.