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If you have a fussy kid in the home, I know it can be trying and meal times can turn into battle zones. Remind yourself that it’s not a race – you have until they leave home to teach them to eat their greens :) In the meantime, here are 22 Ways to Get your Fussy Child to Try New Foods.
My first child ate everything so I thought I had this parenting thing sorted from day one. Then kids 2 and 3 came along…. and oh boy, my two middle kids are naturally suspicious of any new foods and I was quickly introduced to the frustrating world of Picky Eaters.
It’s been an adventure getting them to eat whole foods. And even now my Teens will still give me the ‘why are you doing this to me?’ look when I make anything with mushrooms. But generally, they eat what I make and they will give any food a try.
Trying any new food always starts with taking ONE BITE.
With fussy kids, that can be a big deal. So … to get things started …here are 22 Tricky Ways to Get Your Child to take that “One Bite”.
PICKY EATER FAVORITES:
- Clean Eating Chicken Donburi Bowl
- Ugly Green Smoothie
- THREE INGREDIENT Clean Eating Banana Pancakes
- TWO INGREDIENT Clean Eating Pizza Dough
1. Feed your babies real food as soon as they begin eating solids.
I have to throw this one in, because if you are looking at having another child – you can avoid all of the fuss by avoiding store bought baby food all together. I believe this was my first mistake. My first and fourth children (the two non fussy eaters) were fed homemade food.
With my first, I had the time and with the fourth, I was just lazy, so he got to eat what everyone else ate. My middle two children were not so fortunate; I bought ‘organic’ store stocked baby food to save time and because I thought they did the ‘baby food thing’ better than me. Don’t be fooled by the marketing hype – It’s NOT the same as the real thing. It did not prepare their taste buds for real food and I believe that it was the start to their fussy eating issues.
If you are lucky enough to be reading this before your child gets attached to store bought baby foods, you are ahead of the game. Chances are, you will raise a child that’s will naturally accept Real food without a fuss.
If not, and I think this describes most of us, let’s move on.
2. Don’t ‘Give up’ if your child rejects a food you serve.
Fussy eating is common in childhood. Many kids don’t like change. Often, a child needs to be exposed to a new food up to 10-15 times before they will accept it into their diet. Double this if your child is already a picky eater :). As parents we tend to surrender when a child decides they don’t like a type of food. More often than we would like to admit, we create the monster by offering them something else to replace the uneaten food, or we never serve that food again once it has been rejected.
Just keep putting it on their plate.
3. Texture matters.
A crispy green, raw bean vs. a mashed, soggy bean is not the same. Taste is different, texture is different even though it is the same vegetable. When introducing a new vegetable or fruit – try serving it in different ways. Once your child is familiar with it, they will accept it as part of their diet – then you can experiment with preparation. It loses its power and becomes just another thing on their plate.
4. Become a family that eats real food
Start to see yourself as family that eats Real food at home. Keep your home stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and full fat dairy.
Don’t keep crappy foods in your kitchen at all. That way, it makes it easier on everyone to make healthy choices. It’s amazing how quickly kids adjust to the change. They also become comfortable with seeing fruit and vegetables at every meal. When we first started stocking a real food kitchen, everyone complained that there was nothing to eat. What they meant though, was that there was no junk food to snack on.
5. Choose your battles
I think we eat generic kind of vegetables in our home – the everyday kind of vegetables that aren’t going to cause shock, horror and surprise when you see them on your plate like peas, carrots, squash etc.
These are foods most people have access to, they are generally locally grown and in season most of the year or readily available in the frozen foods department.
And because I cook with these vegetables a lot, I do expect my children to learn to eat the veggies that are commonplace in our home.
I am more forgiving when my children decide that they don’t like an exotic vegetable, artichoke or eggplant come to my mind, but I do think that my children should eat the vegetables I serve often without a fuss and give everything else a good go.
6. No More Choices.
Everyone in our family eats the same meal. Without exception. Cook once for everyone. If they don’t eat it they go hungry. Trust me; kids don’t like to go hungry. They catch on really quickly that there are no options. And they eat. Eat or go hungry. Period.
It wasn’t always like this. Pre Real food, I would sometimes make three different meals : one for the little kids, one for the big kids and one for the adults. Life is way simpler now.
7. Limit Snack Portions.
I do incorporate snacking into our day. I do this because it means that we get an extra dose of fruit or veggies and we won’t go reaching for crappy foods just because we are feeling peckish.
SNACKS are SNACKS! Don’t let your child full up on too much food before dinner. They need to get to that dinner table ready to eat. They should be hungry in time for dinner, breakfast or lunch. If your kids aren’t hungry, then perhaps change the portion size you are feeding them at snack times.
8. Turn the TV off and eat together as a Family.
Life is pretty busy. With teenagers and little ones in the house, it feels as if we all operate in different time zones. But, no matter what, we work hard to sit down and eat dinner together as a family at least three times a week.
Children are excellent mimics. They learn from example. If you want your children to eat their vegetables, practice good manners and develop good eating habits, then let them see you do it too. Turn off the TV, sit down and share a meal with your children.
9. SIMPLY Offer your Kids more real Food
Don’t assume that your kids won’t like a certain food. It’s up to you to offer your children the right choices. Obviously, if you ask them to choose between an apple or chocolate bar, odds are that chocolate bar is going down! Don’t offer the chocolate bar. Present them with fresh, real food and you may be delightfully surprised at their response.
You can download and print my 5 a day Pocket Trackers here. Print this out for each of your children and let them color in their progress. The goal is to eat 5 fruits and veggies is variety of colors every day.
10. Serve it with a Dip.
Hummus, apple sauce, peanut butter or sour cream. We are talking magic, folks. It’s amazing what kids will eat if they can dip it in something. Don’t be scared to try out new things like celery and apple sauce and carrots and peanut butter.
11. Light Candles.
Don’t wait for the special occasion to light those candles. Besides, candlelight makes everything look more appealing – even dinner and bad dates (ha ha). If I’m about to dish up a new dish, and I know that kids will put up a fight over the ‘green’ content, I turn off the lights and we eat by candle light.
12. Let them help with Food Preparation.
Chopping beans, dishing up, stirring a pot, setting the table and washing up. It’s all part of being a family and sharing the experience of meal preparation. You are teaching your children lifetime skills that they will take to their own dinner tables one day.
Also, your children need to know that you took time and effort to create the meal you are serving them. Let them know that it makes you happy when they eat the food you made. Meal times are where you teach your children good eating habits, table manners and gratitude.
13. Make it Fun.
Kids learn through play. The more fun you can make it – the better. We stepped this up for my daughter’s 12th birthday party. We decided on a Fear Factor™ party theme.
Kids delighted in trying every vegetable concoction we put in front of them – it was an awesome party where everyone tried to outdo the other – we’re talking steamed spinach and anchovies (aka raw fish on rotten seaweed), boiled prunes (aka pickled cockroach), cold pumpkin (this one was the worst!).
Dinner times can be fun too. Dinner time is family time. It’s all about sharing, caring and not always the time to discipline or reprimand. Keep it light, make it fun and your children will approach new foods with a different attitude.
14. Set a Good Example.
Let your children see you eating well. Children learn by watching what we do. Sit down with your children and eat together. Let them see you eating clean, healthy food.
As Moms, we tend to feed the kids, then snack on something random while we prepare dinner. For a long time, I never even ate with my family. I was too busy cleaning the kitchen, running around. I saw dinner time as an opportunity to catch up on other chores while the kids were sitting still. Thinking about it now, how on Earth did I expect them to learn from me when I wasn’t even there.
15. Eat Dessert
I’m not exactly proud of this one. It’s a little dark and blackmaily (is that even a word). But… I have, on occasion, been known to blackmail my children into giving a new vegetable a go with the lure of dessert.
“Take three (or one or two or finish it) bites and then you can have dessert”.
It’s so simply brilliant. Because it works. And we were having dessert anyway. I serve dessert once or twice a week, so try and work in new veggies on those nights. The little sweeties still haven’t figured out my strategy.
Oh who am I kidding? This works a treat! Pun intended. Use it as much as you like until your child realises that the new vegetable is not going to kill them. My theory is this: If they did it once they can do it again. And they know it!
BIG CAVEAT HERE: If my children don’t eat their three (or two or one – you decide the rules) bites, they don’t get dessert. Nothing. Not a bit. And they get to watch everyone else eat it too.
What??? [sharp intake of breath] Oh no, the poor dears. Before you jump on me for being too harsh (I’m sure I’m breaking a psychological no no here), remember this: going without dessert is not going to hurt them and at the same time, they are learning that they are responsible for their actions. I’ve got four kids and I’ve only had to withhold dessert once. Once. One time. It’s that powerful.
It was an awkward dessert session, but the others (who did eat their veggies that night) learnt just as much. Mom really meant it.
16. Sibling Rivalry.
I mentioned before that I had two fussy eaters. Because they were both in the same ‘anti veggie’ boat, they trusted each other’s opinions regarding new foods. In fact, they still do.
I get asked the question “Did he eat it?” quite a bit when my kids are deciding how they feel about a new food. Likewise, if I want to speed things along, I say “Even he eats it”. It works both ways.
Sibling rivalry can also be leveraged nightly at the dinner table. A little recognition of the child who gave the new veggie a go doesn’t go unnoticed. So, you will say “Wow honey, great job eating all your broccoli”. Then, out of the corner of your eye, watch the renewed interest in broccoli around the table.
Reward and positive reinforcement beats punishment every time. Yes you can threaten and coerce a child into eating the unwanted vegetable, and maybe they concede, but it will make your job harder next time. I know because for a long time, this was what I did. And it didn’t work as well as I hoped.
All the negative energy is some how compounded and attached to that single vegetable -which makes the getting them to eat it the night that much harder.
Rewarding positive behaviour – even if it is so small (think mouse sized bite) builds on your child’s confidence. They know that they have pleased you and they are also proud of themselves for doing something that they thought they couldn’t.
Whether you use words, dessert, gold stars or simply letting them choose the family movie or dinner the next day. Don’t go overboard though. Remember, it’s just a bit of a vegetable and tomorrow is another night.
18. Everyone is different
Just when you think you have the parenting thing under control, your kids will throw you a curve ball. Just to remind you that are all different. If your sister’s kid loves to eat green spinach smoothies for breakfast, let them.
I know it’s hard to stop comparing your child to others, but your path to getting your kids to eat their vegetables is your own path. In the end they will get there. Don’t be hard on yourself or them. Aim for small wins and keep building on them.
19. You Decide on What you want
Okay, so this leads on from the point before. It is up to you to decide what you are comfortable with. In the beginning, for me, all I wanted was for my children to eat the vegetables that I served up at dinner (a list that I decided upon). And at the very least, give new foods a try.
I figured I had until they left home to get this sorted, but it took less than 12 weeks to have everyone eating the same meal and the vegetables on their plate. Trust me, I was surprised. Decide on what you want to achieve so that you have something to work towards.
20. Try again tomorrow.
Just. Let. It. Go.
Some battles are lost but it’s up to you try again. Tomorrow. In a new way.
For us, it involved preparing cabbage differently. My daughter hated cooked cabbage. One night I just chopped it up raw, added it to salad and drowned it in balsamic vinegar. Every piece eaten without a fuss. Once she accepted that she actually does eat cabbage, I added it to soups and casseroles and it hasn’t been a problem since.
21. When all else fails. Hide the Vegetables.
We’ve all done it. Of course we have. And why on Earth wouldn’t we? If this is what it takes to get your children started with real foods, then hide the vegetables if you have to.
You will get no judgement from me. I’ve been there.
Even if you have to grate 3lb of carrots into that lasagne. Who cares? Your kids are eating carrots.
They are getting used to the idea that their food contains vegetables and becoming familiar with the taste of cooked carrot at the same time. Win/Win.
And you are avoiding tears and tantrums at the same time.
You will invariably get a bit of criticism from someone (friend, neighbour, grandmother, total stranger) about hiding veggies in their food and how it’s not teaching them to eat their vegetables. Blah blah blah! Trust me. It will come up.
Brush it off.
The important thing is that your children are eating vegetables. And that is exactly what you want.
In fact, here are my top three recipes containing hidden vegetables (links below) Enjoy!
Hidden Vegetable Recipes
22. What would Grandma Do?
It was a little easier in Grandmas days to raise a family of healthy eaters. She did not have to deal with the temptation of store bought, highly processed, massively promoted junk food.
We are raising our children in a World full of easy access, instantly gratified temptation. I have mentioned this before, but keeping your home a junk free zone is vital.
I remember when we were kids, my cousins and I would be dropped off at my Grandparents farm for the holidays. Overnight, we went from your typical 90’s convenience food kids to eating whatever Granny dished up.
We knew that skipping on down to the corner store wasn’t an option. We were in the middle of nowhere. And we accepted it. Along the food on our plates.
Before you add that boxed cereal or six pack of choc coated muesli bars to your trolley – ask yourself “What would Grandma do?”. I doubt you would have found any of these in her pantry.
I have used every single one of these strategies to get my children to go from picky eaters to a family of real food eaters.
Remember, we are raising clever, interactive children, NOT training rats. You are juggling likes, dislikes, habits and developing personalities.
Some days it will feel like you are going nowhere fast, but don’t despair, you can do it. You can teach even the fussiest eater to eat Real food with a little patience and persistence.
These 22 common sense tips and tactics have helped me get all four of my children eating their vegetables.
Is it worth the fuss? Hell yes it is! This is what it has meant for me:
- Dinner times are no longer a stress,
- I don’t get into a panic going out to dinner or worry that my children won’t eat the food at Granny’s house.
- I know that my children are eating for their health not because it’s “the easy option”.
- I’m confident that all of my children will politely give everything a good go – and most of the time eat it even if they “didn’t really like it”. Learning to tell me about what they thought of the food after our visit and not at the table was also part of the process.
The important thing to remember is that it is possible to get your picky eater to eat vegetables. They won’t always like it, but they will learn to eat it.