Mealtime can be a battleground in many homes across the country. Children refusing to eat certain foods or even declaring they ‘won’t eat anything red’ sends shivers down the spines of many parents.
Encouraging our children to eat a wide range of foods is good for their physical and emotional health and yet, children soon become aware that by refusing to eat certain things or stick with eating just two or three things, they pull the strings.
Encouraging picky eaters is something every parent needs to do from time to time. But we can become trapped in a vicious circle – we know our children need to eat but how do we encourage them without it developing into a battle across the dining table?
#1 Meal Time Fun
There are times when without realising, we have entered into a war with a child. Meal times are the time when families come together, share stories of their day and enjoy each other’s company. It is a social time, and an important time for your family too.
But it can quickly turn into a problem area, with children feeling ‘forced’ to sit and eat, and parents on the prowl so that every last pea is eaten.
How about food cut into shapes to help picky eaters? Sandwiches can be made and cut with cookie cutters. Spell their name or use certain shapes that they find attractive.
#2 Spice Things Up!
Children do have a more sensitive palate. They will find some foods salty to taste and so we become accustomed to not adding seasoning to toddler’s food.
But as children grow, so do their taste buds and so a lightly spices curry or other dishes can become a firm favourite.
Add spice and herbs to easy-to-eat dishes such as chicken curry, chilli or try stir fry or even a Mexican.
#3 Get Creative with Vegetables
Boiled or steamed veg are great but they can be boring after a while.
Experts suggest including veg in all kinds of dishes, sometimes in dishes that we don’t commonly associate vegetables as being part of. There are also other ways of cooking and eating vegetable that kids can love;
- Stir fry – chop vegetables small enough to that they cook quickly. Stir fry in a wok and serve with noodles, along with chicken and a tasty sauce.
- Pasta dishes – with both a white or cheese sauce and a tomato sauce too, adding chopped veg is a way of sneaking in some vegetables. Try diced courgette for a change or small trees of broccoli with cheese sauce and pasta.
Vegetables don’t always have to be cooked. Have ‘soldiers’ of carrots and other raw veg to nibble on during the day as snacks.
#4 Eat Together
It can be tough with work commitments and after-school activities to find a time that you can all sit down together, especially on a weekday evening.
Studies have shown that a family that sits down together for a meal as often as they can tend to have better relationships with each other, but also fewer problems around eating and choices of food.
Encourage the children to be part of preparing a meal too. They can present their dish for other members of the family to enjoy.
#5 The ‘Try One Bite’ Rule
Introducing new flavours and textures is part and parcel of children learning to enjoy and savour new foods.
But often, children will be stubborn, refusing to try anything new. Psychologists tell us that children are not harmed by the ‘try one bite’ rule, something that is common in families across the UK.
Children need to be encouraged to try new things, but this is not a magic formula that yields instant results. For example, you may need to introduce a food several times before they begin to ‘accept’ it.
Adults can try new foods too or new dishes. Why not introduce something new to all the family, and work out what was good about the dish and what needs improving?
#6 The ‘No Pudding Unless…’ Rule
Again, this food rule has been around for decades.
Limiting snacks during the day and ‘encouraging’ or bribing children to eat something good at meals is not a bad thing. No one can expect their health to be great if as a child and then as an adult, they consume processed foods or snacks over and above healthier options.
Set clear rules and stick to them. They have to eat a portion of everything on their plate in order for them to have a dessert or snack later on in the evening. Maybe they could choose the sweet treat after they have eaten all their vegetables…?
#7 Accept When a Child Does Dislike Something
There are times when a child just won’t like something and like us as an adult, that is perfectly fine. Forcing them to eat something that makes them feel sick or gives them stomach cramps etc. can lead to problems in the future.
Encourage them to identify foods that they do like and will try.