How to entice picky eaters

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I don’t remember having much time to be picky, growing up in the era of the clean plate club. I ate whatever my parents set in front of me without complaint — even canned spinach, ew.

It all paid off when I was blessed with a daughter who loved all foods, especially fruits and vegetables. She took her time. She tried new things. She cleaned her plate, too.

For the last five years, Tater has been an excellent eater; however, all of that changed the day she started kindergarten. She doesn’t even like pizza anymore, let alone fruits and vegetables.

I had to get crafty, sneaky even. Here are some tricks that worked for me:

  1. Set a good example. Most children pick up habits from the adults they look up to, especially when they are young. Make sure you’re setting a good example. Eating healthy and cleaning your plate will encourage your child to do the same.
  2. Ask for help in the kitchen. More often than not children want to satisfy their curiosity and be a part of the process. By giving them small jobs to do, you can lessen the chance they will reject the foods they helped prepare. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for some suggested kitchen activites.
  3. Try presenting your child’s food in a more pleasing manner. A study conducted by Cornell University researchers found that children prefer their food to be positioned in the lower segment of their plate with some design or pattern to it. Additionally, children are drawn to plates with more components and colors, preferring, on average, seven separate piles of food and six different colors.
  4. Slice fruits and vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Making fruit and vegetables easier to eat encourages consumption, especially for children missing teeth or wearing braces.
  5. Let popular culture help you out. Many children already watch cartoons that promote healthy eating or adore superheroes that embody a high fitness level. For me, it was Popeye. Mom pushed that spinach and convinced me it was a good idea because it made Popeye strong and I wanted to be strong, too. Don’t be afraid to piggyback off the messages your child is already receiving to encourage healthy choices.
  6. Leave healthy snacks out, so he or she can help herself. I may not love peanuts or mints, but every Thanksgiving mom sets them out and I stand at the counter talking to her, while I eat them in handfuls. If you set food out, they will eat it.
  7. Don’t ask what he or she wants, just provide healthy options. Sometimes children are so busy playing, they don’t even realize they are starting to get hungry. Chances are if you give them food before they have time to consider what they feel like eating, they will eat it anyway.

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

1 COMMENT

  1. Some great ideas here, like demonstrating a positive relationship with food by being a good example. I think you have to be really careful with how you teach about nutrition though, and trying to encourage children to eat with health as the end goal can really back-fire. It can add pressure unintentionally (which makes picky eating worse), and kids are not known for their rational decision making, so isn’t always so effective either!

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