I have been seeing quite a few friends on Facebook post in the last months about trying to get their kids to eat. Either they’re just not interested, or they’re picky and only eat mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. I am blessed with some pretty adventurous eaters. Both kids love brussels sprouts and asparagus, they both will try just about any type of fish, they like game meat and will eat most vegetables if they’re cooked correctly.
Here’s how I did it – and some things I learned along the way – hope they help! Please feel free to share your tips or share your challenges in the comments, maybe we can help each other out.
- Don’t make a huge deal out of not eating. Kids have weird metabolisms and sometimes they’re just not hungry.
- Don’t offer snacks if they’re not eating meals. Snacks will fill a kid up fast, so snacking could be a HUGE reason why they won’t eat when they sit down. If your kids are eating their meals and need a little extra protein here and there, apples or celery and Peanut Butter are good – hard-cooked egg whites, a granola bar or something similar can do the trick. Do not give free access to snack foods if the kids aren’t eating meals
- You are not a short order cook. Don’t cook special meals for your kids, and don’t try everything in the kitchen to just get a bite in. If my kids wouldn’t eat what was for dinner, either because they were picky, or not hungry, I wrapped up their plate and put it in the fridge. If they came and said they were hungry later, I warmed up dinner. Sometimes they had dinner for breakfast – but the message was, you eat what’s put on the table.
- Many kids have texture issues, and those can be difficult to overcome. My kids hate the texture of cooked pinto-type beans and onions. How do I get around this? I do two things 1) I don’t get mad if they pick them out. I wont cook without them, but they don’t have to eat them; or 2) I use my mini chop or immersion blender and make sure the onions or beans are pretty much reduced to mush. The veggie mush trick works with carrots and celery and tomatoes as well. Chunks seem to be a deterrent, so get rid of that barrier.
- Pack their school lunch and make sure it’s nutritious and filling with GOOD foods. School hot lunches are packed with crap – preservatives and junk – and they think potatoes are vegetables. My kids are 12 and 16 and I still pack their lunch every morning. They take leftovers, or a PB&J, or soup – if they don’t eat it, that’s their problem and they can eat when dinner is put on the table. A small snack of fruit or high protein after school doesnt hurt, but no closer than 2 hrs before dinner
- Eat on a schedule. This also helps kids learn to tell time. Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner are at set times – this helps them get into the routine of eating. This also means YOU have to be diligent and get the food going and done on time. Things come up – so don’t be afraid to teach kids flexibility, but don’t be upset when they’re STARVING at dinner time and you’re not ready. A small cube of cheese can get them through to dinner.
- Get them in the kitchen with you. The more they cook, and see what goes into what they’re eating, the more likely they are to eat what’s on the table. Let them try all of the ingredients separately (if it’s safe) and then encourage them to try it all together as it cooks. A little taste of sauce off the spoon at the stove can make them feel like a grown up. Praise their efforts and make sure everyone eating knows who helped or made the meal.
- If you’re still not getting the kiddos to eat, snacking is not an issue – talk to your pediatrician about protein meal replacements. Some of these have crap in them, so be sure you’re using a good one. I’ve never had to do it, but if the kids are underweight and LOSING weight, that’s a larger issue.
I’d love to hear your tips for picky or slow eaters. Please share below or on our Facebook page and I’ll add more to this post with credit to you!
Update: I thought of one more tip after I posted this – ONE BITE RULE. Even if they say they don’t like it – they need to take ONE BITE before they leave the table. My son has discovered a bunch of foods he thought he didn’t like using this rule.
From Jenette Keese via Facebook: Set manageable goals – don’t load up a kid’s plate and expect them to eat it all. When they think they’re full – give them a goal – 4-5 more bites and divide out the bites on the child’s plate. If you just say “eat more” or “clean your plate” they become overwhelmed and tend to dig in their heels.
My mom always said “if I dish it, and you can’t eat it all, that’s fine – but if YOU dish it, you eat it – so only take what you can manage.” This took a few stops and starts because kids don’t understand spacial relationships and how much food = full – but it does teach them to take 3 SMALL scoops and eat it all instead of 1 GIGANTIC scoop.