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"But I Don't Waaant It!" How to Get Kids to Try New Foods

Photo by gpointstudio / iStock
Photo by gpointstudio / iStock

Written by Amelia Winslow, Eating Made Easy

Serving up healthy food to your tot is a major part of being a parent: After all, food is fuel, so he should be getting the best of the best. But in a world where chicken nuggets, sugary cereal, and French fries pop up at every turn, coaxing him into healthier options and helping him build good eating habits can be difficult to accomplish! Check out these eight healthy eating strategies to try with your kids, no matter their age or current eating habits, and bid adieu to battles of willpower at the dinner table.

1. Limit snacks. 

Chances are that if your little one is hungry, she’ll be more willing to eat (or at least try) what’s being served. Try limiting between-meal munching to two small snacks per day: one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon, unless otherwise advised by a doctor or dietitian. Offer your little one fruits and vegetables instead of crackers or pretzels for a true snack, rather than a filling mini-meal. (And fruits and veggies are healthier for her, anyway!)

2. Serve vegetables first.

When your child has some steamed broccoli sitting next to a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, it’s pretty obvious which one he’ll dig into first—and which one he’ll wrinkle his nose at. Instead of serving everything at the same time, dish out veggies as a first course while you prepare the rest of the meal. Kids are much more likely to try (and enjoy) healthy food when it’s the only thing in front of them.

3. Involve kids in food prep.

Inviting kids into the kitchen can seem like a daunting, messy, and time-consuming task—but if you can manage it even once or twice a month, the experience can make a true difference in the way your children view healthy food (plus, learning opportunities abound in the kitchen). Weekend days are best for cooking adventures; that way, you’ll have plenty of time for everyone to get used to being in the kitchen, have some fun, and experiment!

4. Keep food simple.

Fresh, simple foods served separately often appeal to kids (especially picky eaters) more than mixed, cooked dishes. Serving food this way allows them to explore the look, flavor, and texture of each food item one by one. If you or other adults in your house prefer mixed dishes, just set aside some of the individual foods for the kids’ plates, and then finish mixing everything together for the adults. For example, if you’re making chicken fajitas, set aside some bell pepper strips and cooked chicken pieces to be served with a side of salsa or guacamole for dipping.

5. Serve what’s in season.

A ripe, juicy cherry tomato picked in July will always taste better than the mealy, orange-colored one available in January. When your child has the opportunity to taste fruits and vegetables at their peak flavor and ripeness, she’s more likely to enjoy these foods and associate them with positive feelings rather than negative ones. During winter months, frozen produce is one of your best bets, but you can also try roasting fresh veggies with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt to improve their flavor.

6. Take him to a farmers market.

The sights, smells, and flavors at your local farmers market can be a true adventure for your youngster. He can discover and sample what’s in season, learn about foods he’s never seen before, and help you decide what to take home. Make the trip even more fun by giving him a few dollars to spend on an item of his choice, or challenge him to a scavenger hunt—can he find fruit or veggies in every color of the rainbow? When you get home, invite him to help you turn the foods he found into a meal or snack the whole family can enjoy!

7. Try new foods yourself!

We all get into food ruts, especially when we’re busy—but if we want our kids to eat a variety of foods, we need to buy and eat a variety of foods ourselves! Keep your meals interesting by trying one new recipe each week, or buying a few different fruits and vegetables on each shopping trip for added variety. When new healthy foods are added to your rotation, you and your kids are more likely to be enthusiastic about eating come mealtime.

8. Don’t freak out.

If your child is going through a picky phase or doesn’t seem very hungry, it’s okay. Keep using the strategies above and remember that even the pickiest eaters will eventually branch out, so keep at it. It will pay off in the long run, and your child’s long-term health is worth the extra effort!

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