5. Explore Other Senses
If your child refuses to even take a bite of something, don’t push — it’ll just become a battle of wits and it’s important for children to have control over their appetite. Instead, ask them what it smells like, if its shape reminds them of anything, even what it feels like. Even if no morsels pass their lips, they are developing a sensory palate that will eventually serve them well. You can make this into a game, too. Some foods (such as potatoes and cauliflowers or ricotta cheese and blended tofu) mimic each other in texture or taste. Try swapping them out in old favorites and see if kids can taste the difference.
Letting kids play with their food is a controversial topic, but one worth exploring. Teach them that throwing food is not okay, but that trying new ways to eat is encouraged. Maybe mixing up pickles, blueberry jam, and cornbread will taste good to them. Especially at younger ages, experimentation and exploration are huge parts of learning. So relax and try not to comment even when their concoctions make you lose your appetite.
Exploring food outside of dinnertime can often be less stressful and more fun. Books such as Lois Ehlert’s Eating the Alphabet and Growing Vegetable Soup are colorful and appealing as well as educational. Likewise, Amy Wilson Sanger’s adorable board books feature different cultural food traditions, which include Yumyum Dim Sum and Let’s Nosh. Out-of-the-house excursions can include trips to berry patches, orchards and working farms.
6. Get Your Global Groove On…
…in your kitchen and out. Dining out can be stressful for parents, but it’s often worth it, both as a break for the family chef and as an opportunity for your family to get a glimpse of the tastes and traditions of diverse cuisines. While restaurants may add more salt or oil than you would generally use in your kitchen, the trade-off is that kids will have a chance to sample new and authentic cooking preparations and ingredients.
Look for casual restaurants that seem kid-friendly and ask seasoned parents for suggestions — we’ve had great luck at Ethiopian restaurants where kids eat to eat spongy bread and other tasty veggie dishes with their hands, and at noodle shops where food is usually cooked quickly and a fish tank or other colorful decorations are on hand to keep little ones entertained.
If eating out seems like more trouble than it’s worth, bring the world home with you. Have your kids plan a themed food night. Put on mariachi music, make or buy a piñata, and try out a new recipe for veggie quesadillas and homemade salsa. The dinner table becomes an inviting place when there are flowers (paper or real) on display, and everyone is sporting sombreros.
7. Be Realistic, but Imaginative
Your little man or lady is unlikely to go from eating chicken nuggets and French fries to scarfing down edamame and brown rice overnight, but there are some things you can do to ease the transition.
Make it fun: Put banana eyes and a maple syrup smile on those spelt pancakes. Get them laughing, and they will try something new much more happily.
Keep trying new ways of preparing a certain food: They may not like carrots when they are sauteed but will love the sweetness and richness that roasting adds. Even varying the temperature at which a dish is served can really change how it tastes. Cutting new foods into small pieces is also helpful-they can nibble something that looks a little strange to them, and the smaller bites blend in with more familiar tastes.
For super picky eaters, more extreme measures of deception might be in order. See Jennie Lyon’s recipes for sneaking veggies into smoothies. Books such as The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious have received a fair amount of backlash by parents who feel that “hiding” vegetables in food is sending the wrong idea. While I have been lucky to have a generally adventurous eater (who happens to love broccoli and who went on a pickled onion spree around his first birthday), I still use some of these recipes from time to time. I’m not hiding anything (especially since he’s there when I’m cooking our meals), and I’m all for any way to get more servings of fruits and veggies into our diet.
Finally, don’t give up! What kids may hate this month could turn into their favorite food next month. Just continue providing an array of healthy options and let them explore the wonderful world of food.
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