While most parents are just trying to get their kids to try something new, some of us have had to hire “experts” to guide us through the process of introducing new foods to our kids. Since the journey can be a bit more difficult for some of us, especially those that have kids with sensory issues, special needs, and special diets, I’ve put together these 10 Picky Eater Strategies from Specialist I have worked with in the past.
The end-game is the same for all of us and the following are some of the things that I’ve learned along the way. From podcast to writing cookbooks, I know all of these will work for all picky eaters, regardless of what stage you are in.
1. Keep your cool.
No matter how frustrating dinner time might be, many kids like the attention that the dinnertime struggles bring. Smile throughout the meal and ignore the call for attention. Kindly remind the child that you’ll be very excited to (play, read a book, talk to them) after dinner but that the table is a place for manners.
2. Put on your best poker face.
When a child decides that they might want to try something new, it’s important that you don’t get overly excited about this. Making things a big deal often results in a major letdown when they don’t like it, or worse, a deep interrogation by the parent on the “why.”
The more casual you are about them wanting to try something new, the more likely they are to follow through with actually trying the food.
3. Keep track of progress.
It’s easy to feel like you are not making progress when you are not keeping track of the “small wins.” Keeping an ongoing note or journal about new tastes, new items a child tried, what he or she liked about food, and how it was prepared. This way, it’s easy to see progress, and it will help you make more meals with similar flavor profiles.
When you re-introduce food that the child has eaten, and they don’t’ want to eat it, you can casually say something like “Oh, I thought you might like carrots again with your chicken since you ate them with macaroni and cheese and you thought they were okay.”
4. Slow and Steady Wins the Race.
You might think it’s crazy to add a cheese sauce to broccoli, peas, carrots, green beans… but sometimes that’s exacly what is done at feeding clinics. Once they find a vessel that the child finds appealing, they use it to re-introduce foods with the same taste they already like.
Or, sometimes it can be crazy to puree soup to a smooth consistency, but if a child prefers a smooth texture to their soup, this might be the best first step. Eventually, you’ll puree it chunkier and chunkier until they can adjust to the new texture.
5. Overcome Color with Creativity.
We’ve all heard of the kid that eats “only white and yellow foods” and nothing else. You can mix mashed white potatoes with a few mashed carrots or sweet potatoes, where the color changes gradually. Eventually, the color gauge moves to the opposite side, and your child will accept the change since the transition has been gradual. This method works great with yogurt. Mix pureed fruit or veggies (from the baby food section if you don’t make your own) with plain vanilla yogurt. It will slowly add color acceptance in a vessel they already love.
Some kids, love spaghetti and tomato sauce but can’t stand pesto because it’s green. Adding a little bit of pesto to the tomato sauce and gradually making the switch will get them used to the taste and accept the transition from red to green.
7. Focus on Flavor.
One of the things I learned from my picky eaters is that while they could eat homemade mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and pizza every day, they don’t necessarily like bland foods. I’ve slowly learned what flavor profile they prefer and now I can introduce new foods with the same style recipes.
Does your kid love parmesan cheese on their pizza and spaghetti? Try “sprinkle cheese” on veggies and chicken, even when no red sauce is in the meal.
8. Provide Equal Treatment.
One of the best things about being a picky eater is that you get a lot of special foods and special one-on-one time with mom and dad or a specialist; basically, a lot of special treatment.
It’s important that not a lot of emphasis is put on a specially prepared meal rather provide something your kid will eat from the meal you’ve already prepared. So if you are having baked chicken with broccoli and mashed potatoes, let your child eat the mashed potatoes and chicken with one or two pieces of broccoli on their plate, in case they want to try it.
9. Build on Success.
There are many strategies specialists use to introduce new foods to kids. Most of these focus on using a food that the child already prefers to eat in order to get them to try something similar.
For example, if you child loves chicken nuggets, then try to make similar items with the nugget shape/texture they love. Some great examples are our Broccoli Nuggets, Veggie Nuggets, and 2-Ingredient Tater Tots (these can be made with carrots too!).
Other strategies for getting kids to eat chicken that isn’t breaded include making the nuggets with less breading each time. As time goes by, you’ll eventually get to a place where the child learns to eat seasoned, grilled chicken. And next, you can pair that grilled chicken in a meal, etc.
You can also change up foods based on texture. For example from french fries to sweet potato or carrot fries, chicken “fries” to fish “fries.”
10. Give it Time.
Understand that it will take some time to get kids to like new foods. Overcoming picky eating isn’t something that will fix itself in a month or two. It’s easy to see progress when you keep track of the small wins (as mentioned in #3) but it’s just as important to give it time to call it a “win.” Rushing from one texture to the next doesn’t seem to work well for most picky eaters. Instead, accept this for what it is and have fun with the process! Eventually, you’ll be rewarded with a much better eater.
Maybe these strategies were not what you were expecting. As sometimes, our behavior has to change in order for our kids to change. Leave me a comment with what works at your house.
What is your biggest struggle when dealing with your Picky Eater?