I know so many parents struggle with a child that they consider a picky eater. My kids have both gone through phases themselves, but overall at ages 10 and 7, I’d call them adventurous eaters who love a variety of cuisines and are happy to try new things.
There are a few tricks that worked for me and I hope you find something in here that helps you expand that kiddie cuisine we all know too well. (Though I can tell you, this feels less smart when your kids are stealing the sushi off your plate!)
Don’t Force It
This is my #1 tip, courtesy of my Mom. She always said battling over food was more of a battle for control than it was of nutrition. It’s so true, and I never made a fight over mealtime. There were times with both of my children when they’d eat only one thing for every meal. If I had a penny for every yogurt I’ve fed them…
But it wasn’t worth the fight to demand they eat something else. They grew out of those cycles, and we didn’t set the stage for the dinner table to become a battle ground. So choose wisely when you lay down the law at mealtime.
But Don’t Cater To Fussiness
Some families make two meals: one for the adults and one for the kids. Mommy don’t play that in this house. If I have to wash another pot I may lose my you-know-what. I make one meal and that’s what’s served. If the kids can’t tolerate it, they are welcome to find something else to eat but it needs to be something they can serve themselves. I am not a short order cook. #respectthemama
Lead the Way
Let your kids see you eating a variety of foods and they’ll be more likely to want to try them, too. I absolutely have a few quick and easy go-tos on busy nights when we’re rushing off to soccer practice (hello, spaghetti). On nights when we have more time I try to mix it up.
The grocery store has some great options for ethnic foods now and my kids LOVE these Saffron Road sauces. I worked with them on a sponsored review last summer and continue to buy their products because my kids request them all the time. We also recently discovered The Good Table crusts for chicken and fish and love the Thai Peanut variety. Take the kids shopping and see what looks good to them!
Cook With Them
Not only is it a good move to let the kids shop with you and pick out some new things to try, but let them cook with you too. It makes them more invested in the meal and if they take ownership of what’s being served, they’re more likely to try it with a positive attitude.
Serve Supporting Side Dishes
If you’re trying something new with one course, keep the other courses familiar so there’s something on the table that everyone likes. If I try a new chicken dish, I’ll serve it with rice and broccoli. Chances are with my two I’ll be the one eating the rice and broccoli because they’ll scarf down the chicken, but you get the idea. Introduce new things slowly until they’re not new anymore.
Redefine The Salad
My kids love that salad bar at Ruby Tuesday. I do too, because it’s loaded with fresh options. You know what I don’t like? Lettuce. There, I said it. I don’t like lettuce and I never put it in my salad at a salad bar. I pick only the veggies I like and that’s my salad. I’m a lot like a kid in that respect. Some kids like lettuce but many don’t. Let them be creative and make a salad any way they choose. Maybe one day they’ll add lettuce (or maybe they’ll grow up to be like me!).
Break Out the Condiments
It pains me to say this, but I think it works. And I owe this little trick to my husband. He gets out a whole buffet of condiments and lemons and spices and all kinds of stuff at every meal. The kids started asking for it and it was just one more thing for us to get up and get when they were younger. Of course these days they can get it themselves. Now that I’m not up and down at the table like a whack-a-mole over it, I can see that they think it’s fun to add spices and sauces to their meals, and it’s broadened their taste bud horizons, too.
In my next life I’m going to put a lazy Susan in the middle of the table and save myself 400 trips. That, or make sure I’m wearing my Fitbit at mealtime!
Eat Out Occasionally
We try to be careful about eating out too often so that it’s a real treat when we do it. When you go out, try new places that offer different cuisines. My kids love the local Hibachi bar! I think they enjoy the atmosphere as much as the food, so look for places that are fun to eat. Outdoor dining is always a favorite for us.
Grow A Garden
Kids love to watch things grow in the garden and pick food right off the plants to eat. Something about it feels a little sneaky and my kids are all over that. Grape tomatoes and snap peas are two of our favorites. Let them pick out the plants, plant them, water them, and be part of the whole process.
Try The Local Cuisine When You Travel
Who wants to go on vacation to eat at the same chain restaurants you have at home? When you go to a new place, try the local cuisine. Our experience has been that when the kids are in a new place, seeing new things, they’re happy to eat new things too.
What would you add to my list? I’d love to hear what’s worked for you in developing adventurous eaters in your family!
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