Chances are, there is going to come a day when your little one looks at meal in front of them and say “I don’t want to eat that.” They have decided that today is a great day to exercise their new-found independence, and often that realization come while at the meal table. For some kids, this phase comes much earlier than others….even as young as infancy. For others, it is a case of a child who has eaten like a champ since birth, but as soon as they hit pre-school for the first time, they start to turn their nose up at mealtime.
With my oldest, now almost four, this phase hit as soon as her little feet hit the ground and started walking. Miss Independent had her own ideas about mealtime, and I admittedly made the same mistake that so many parents do. I bribed, I forced, I freaked out on her. I didn’t know any better and to be honest, I was afraid she would starve. As the months and years went by, I read more and more articles and talked to various experts in childhood nutrition that maintain that when it comes to helping children develop lifelong healthy relationships with food, bribery and “just take 3 more bites” may actually be doing more harm than good. Yikes!
Today, I am sharing with you some of the tips and tricks I have learned along that way that have gotten my kids excited about mealtime and turned the sentiment (most of the time…) from “I don’t want to eat that” to “How can we make that for dinner?” Music to this mama’s ears.
Play With Your Food – Regardless of what your grandmother told you at the dinner table when you were a child, when it comes to getting little ones to try new foods, it really is OK to play with your food. This is a time for you as a parent to exercise your creative side! Make a smiley face on the plate with spaghetti squash as the hair and a bell pepper as the mouth. Make a tic-tac-toe board on their plate with carrot sticks and use some other veggies as the “x’s” and “o’s”. And if you are not confident in your own creative abilities with food, that is OK! There are products out there that can help with this. There are plates with faces and various scenes already on them that you can decorate with food of your choice! Make it fun and chances are, they will step right up!
Make Mealtime A Lesson Time – For the toddler set, turn mealtime into education time. If your little ones are learning their letters, make it a game to eat a new food that starts with the letter of the day! If today is “A” day, make it a goal for your little one to try asparagus or artichokes for the first time. Change the letter each day to keep it new and exciting! Or, if it is colors that you are focusing on, you can do the same thing. If today is “orange” day, maybe they try butternut squash for the first time or even sweet potato fries! If you really want to make it an experience, create a chart to hang on the wall or fridge and give them a sticker when they complete a letter or color. Kiddos this age love a little challenge and this is a great way to incorporate that!
Take Them Shopping With You – Trust me, I know that sometimes that weekend trip to the grocery store is a great time for mom to get an hour of solitude, but if you are going through a picky phase with your little one, it may be a good time to take them with you. Make sure to spend lots of time in the outer edges of the store…produce, meat, dairy. And not sure much in the inner aisles…usually processed foods. Allow your little one to pick out a new fruit or veggie to try that week. Talk with them about how the food gets to the store (include lots of imagery about tractors and big trucks…kids dig that stuff). By doing this, your little love will feel like they helped make the decision this week. If they chose the food, chances are, they will eat it!
Get Them In The Kitchen – This is a great one for the pre-school set. Sure, there are tasks they should steer clear of….cutting, boiling, grating, etc. But there are LOTS of tasks you can have your little one help with when it comes to meal-prep. They can help get ingredients out of the pantry/fridge, they can scoop flour from a bin, they can dump pre-measured ingredients into a bowl, they can even stir. Sure, it may mean a little more of a mess to clean up after dinner, but kiddos love to help “create” and what better way to do so than in the kitchen? Plus, it is sure to create some great memories along the way. And just watch their face light up when they tell the whole family, “I helped make that”..and then dig in!
Those picky phases can be so frustrating, but next time they hit, give a few of these a try! I hope they help you as much as they have helped us along the way!