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How to Motivate Kids Who Are Picky Eaters

August 11, 2020
Picky Eater Kid Nutrition

Parenting kids is a joy and a privilege but at times can be challenging. It requires an abundance of love, patience, and the ability to get creative when dealing with roadblocks. When our little ones are running with scissors, we quickly step in and explain the dangers of self-impalement. If your toddler is prone to temper tantrums, prevailing logic dictates calmly holding your ground and riding out the storm for the greater good. It’s not easy, but most parents instinctively know the right moves to make (regardless of how hard they sometimes might be).
 
For parents of picky eaters, the struggle is real. The right moves are often unclear. Good nutrition is vital for kids to thrive, but getting children to embrace healthy food choices can be daunting. If you’re too militant, mealtime becomes a battleground. If you give up, your kids might form negative eating habits that could have a long-lasting impact on their development.
 
There’s no magic formula for success, but the following tips may help you develop a more positive strategy for course-correcting your picky eater.

Cook & Shop Together with Your Kids

If playing “airplane” with a forkful of broccoli hasn’t really taken off, consider involving your children in more of the steps from the grocery store to the highchair. While shopping together in our produce section, see how many fruits and vegetables they can name. Better yet, let your kids pick the produce you’ll be taking home that day… it will be fun for them, and give you some insight as to what foods capture their interest.

Once home, ask your kids to help wash the produce – they’ll feel involved and useful. If possible, involve them in the actual cooking of the meal. Regardless of their own perception of how something tastes, toddlers are far more likely to warm up to eating new foods if they’ve been a part of the process from the beginning.

Children Diet Eating Habits

Avoid Making Dessert a “Reward”

Everyone loves a quick win. It’s all too easy to make dessert contingent upon junior eating at least five green beans. In the moment, the end seems to justify the means. But it teaches children that the foods you want them to eat really are gross. Why else would Mom or Dad offer a payoff like cookies?


Broccoli Donut Veggie Dessert

Focus instead on leveraging what you already know about their preferences to make the new food more appealing. If your picky eaters love melted cheese, pour some over the cauliflower to make it more appealing. If they like ketchup on tater tots, consider instead trying some ketchup with breaded broccoli nuggets (available in Pete’s freezer section). With many kids, it’s all about that familiar condiment – you might successfully introduce a healthy option by pairing it with something they already like to eat.

Here’s another option to spiff-up their veggies. Our friends at Bon Appetit magazine have a fresh take on green beans that gives a “french-fry” quality without making them unhealthy. If these Blistered Green Beans with Garlic don’t make believers out of your children, perhaps there’s a picky adult eater in your life who might give them a try.

Small Portions, Big Variety

Some parents find that a lunch plate loaded with small portions can go a long way for the cause. An even mix of carb-y standbys and newer, healthier options will make the effort seem more like a suggestion than an attack. Three small chicken nuggets and a few fries will appear as welcome friends next to sliced carrots and a handful of peas. Children generally aren’t as intimidated by more variety if there’s less volume.


Kids Meal Balance Vegetables

Knowing the bowtie pasta is standing by to cleanse their palette from the scary taste of edamame may just be enough to get them over the hump. Plus, a wide variety of smaller portions is reassuring to your kids. They know that even if the new stuff tastes like a nightmare, it’ll be over in a few bites – and something better is waiting right next to it.

Food Bingo (for Everybody)

Introducing new foods to your little ones can actually be fun. We know, that’s a little hard to swallow (pardon the pun). But it’s true, thanks to Food Bingo! Download your own blank bingo card, and replace the usual numbers by writing different foods in the squares. Be sure to make all of those food options available on the table, and offer prizes to anyone who tries enough foods to cross off a row. Click here to download a printable Pete’s Market bingo card, and start playing with your children today.


Food Bingo Card Preview

Food bingo can be effective because it empowers your kids to make their own choices. If they want to yell “Bingo!” (and every kid does), they have to willingly ingest a new food on their own accord. Setting up the game and choosing prizes involves a little creativity and prep work, but it could just be the breakthrough moment you’ve been hoping for.

Eat Together, At the Table

If you know your little ones aren’t into lasagna night, you may be tempted to whip up a separate meal just for them. After all, you deserve to enjoy your dinner in peace, right? True, but becoming a short-order cook for your kids every night will ultimately reinforce their resistance to new foods. Where’s the motivation to try something new when your children know they always have a bailout?


Family Dinner Table Meals

Instead of creating a whole new meal, prepare one or two side dishes with your main course that have a higher chance of appealing to your kids. If they try the lasagna and just can’t get through it, at least your children can double-up on rice pilaf, fruit, or basic salad.
 
Ideally, dinnertime should happen at the table with everyone together. When your family is able to pass a plate and talk about their days, kids learn that dining is about being with the people they love – not just a nightly battle over cooked squash.

Pleasing by Freezing

Pre-frozen veggies not only offer a cost-savings, but they may also be more appealing to toddlers when served right out of the bag. Especially when they’re cutting new teeth, kids may enjoy chewing on frozen beans, corn, or peas to relieve the pain in their gums. In time, they could develop a taste for the flavor and deem vegetables worthy of their consumption.
 
The same method can work for fruits as well. For example, if the skins of grapes are a non-starter with your picky eater, freeze the grapes and see if that makes a difference. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make real progress.


Frozen Vegetables

Your freezer can be a game-changer in your quest to keep food fun and appealing for your little ones; just make sure you’re giving them pieces that aren’t a choking hazard. When in doubt, consult your pediatrician.
 
Freezing liquids can also help deliver more nutrition to your children. Consider buying an inexpensive popsicle mold kit so you can make your own healthy frozen snacks. Whether you’re freezing orange juice, or a mixture of real fruit and yogurt, popsicles can be an effective trojan horse for getting the good stuff into your kids (without them realizing it).
 
 
Pete’s Market prides itself on offering the best quality produce, along with an extensive line of premium frozen foods. As you embark upon teaching good eating habits to your kids, let us be your source for the healthiest and most delicious options.
 
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About the Author: 

Joe Barnes

Joe Barnes

Joe Barnes is the Marketing Manager for Pete’s Market, Chicagoland’s finest collection of independent grocery stores. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising & Public Relations, and has worked in the professional marketing space since 1993.