19 Ways to Introduce Healthy Food for Picky Eaters
The most common complaints we get from parents who are trying to “go pure” and feed their children grow foods are “My child is such a picky eater” and “My kids just have trouble accepting new foods.” Here are nineteen time-tested tricks from the Sears family kitchen and from parents in our pediatric practice to introduce healthy food for picky eaters:
1. Nibble It.
Offer a “nibble tray” when introducing healthy food for picky eaters. Use an ice-cube tray, muffin tin, or other compartmentalized dish and put bite-size portions of nutritious food in each section. Call the foods in the nibble tray child-friendly names such as:
- apple moons (peeled apple slices, with or without peanut butter)
- avocado boats (quarter an avocado sliced lengthwise)
- banana wheels
- broccoli trees (steamed broccoli florets)
- cheese “blocks”; tofu “blocks”
- egg canoes (hard-boiled egg wedges)
- little O’s (O-shaped cereal)
- sticks (cooked carrots or whole wheat bread)
2. Dip It.
Children like to dip and dunk. Dipping less favored foods, especially veggies, in a favorite dip is a sure winner to introduce healthy food for picky eaters. Using a dipping bowl, try these dips:
- cheese sauce
- chickpea puree (hummus)
- cottage cheese
- guacamole (with or without spices)
- nut butters
- nutritious salad dressing
- pureed fruit or cooked vegetables
- refried beans
- tofu puree
- yogurt (plain or flavored with fruit concentrate)
3. Spread It.
Young children like spreading and smearing. Let them smear nutritious spreads (avocado, cheese, meat pâté, peanut butter, hummus, vegetable sauce, pear or other fruit concentrates) on crackers, bagels, toast, or rice cakes.
4. Top It.
Toddlers and older children are into toppings. Putting familiar and nutritious favorites on top of new and less desirable foods is a way to introduce healthy food for picky eaters. Toppings include melted cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, guacamole, pear concentrate, tomato sauce, meat sauce, applesauce, and peanut butter.
5. Sip It.
If your child would rather drink than eat, no problem. Make a nutritious fruit-and-yogurt smoothie to introduce healthy food for picky eaters. Smoothies are a Mommy favorite for sneaking in healthy food for picky eaters. You can sneak a lot of nutritious foods into a smoothie that you wouldn’t normally be able to get your toddler to eat. After your child gets used to enjoying a certain smoothie mixture, slip in a new food once or twice a week, such as spinach or tofu. Your child won’t notice the tofu is in there, since it does not change the smoothie taste very much. Go slowly with the spinach, however. It’s more detectable by color and taste.
6. Bite It.
Try the “two-bites test.” Don’t expect love at first bite. Say “Take two bites…and you can have more if you want…or you can try it another time.” Don’t say, “if you don’t like it.” Planting negative thoughts in a child’s suspicious mind is a setup for a food refusal.
7. Sneaking Healthy Food for Picky Eaters.
Here are some fun ways to sneak in new healthy food for picky eaters. Cut nutritious veggies into small pieces and put them under a proven favorite food, such as cheese. Hide the salmon between the tomato sauce and the pasta. Sprinkle sprouts between the peanut butter and jam on a whole wheat PB&J sandwich. The seven most versatile foods into which to sneak new foods are:
- Avocado. Great guacamole! Dip any food into it.
- Beans. Mash them and dip into them.
- Low-fat cheese. Make sauces, dips, and toppings with the cheese.
- Nut butters. Spreads and dips camouflage what’s underneath.
- Mashed potatoes. Put a piece of salmon on top or underneath.
- Yams. Whip them up and consider mashing in some yogurt, flaxseed oil, or cooked veggies, such as lentils. A yam-and-cheese quesadilla is yummy.
- Yogurt. Sneak in berries and ground flaxseeds.
8. Grind It.
For children under four, grind chokable foods such as flaxseeds and sunflower seeds, and sprinkle them onto oatmeal or into smoothies or salads.
9. Dice It.
Dice raw, leafy greens such as spinach, chard, and kale (often the least favorite, but the most nutritious) and cook them into spaghetti sauce, bury them in mashed potatoes, or hide them in a smoothie.
10. Spice it Up.
Add some herbs and spices to your child’s life. Not only do they help introduce healthy food for picky eaters by making it more flavorful, but new research is showing they sneak in lots of health benefits, such as helping to regulate blood sugar and acting as natural anticancer nutrients! One of our granddaughters will try and new food if we sprinkle cinnamon on it. Try these herbs and spices:
11. Squeeze It.
Squeeze a cut lime and sprinkle it over salads. This not only gives the veggies a more tangy taste but also adds some vitamin C and acidity that helps some of the nutrients from the veggies be more easily digested.
12. Sweeten Healthy Food for Picky Eaters.
Children are born with a sweet tooth (mother’s milk is very sweet). To wean them off the taste of artificial sweeteners, gradually decrease the fake sweeteners and add instead honey, guava nectar, fruit concentrates, mashed fruits (such as blueberries and strawberries), and cinnamon.
13. Cook It.
Enjoy some fun mother-child kitchen time, and let your child help you cook. Just as children are more likely to eat what they have grown, they are more likely to eat what they helped prepare and cook. Capitalize on the “I do it myself” stage from two to four years old. Mashing potatoes is a sure winner. In fact, any food mashed is more likely to make it into a child’s mouth. Make whole wheat oatmeal cookies. Teach your child how to spread the peanut butter and fruit juice-sweetened jelly on whole wheat bread. Show your child how to use cookie cutters to create edible designs out of foods she likes, such as whole wheat bread, thin meat slices, or cooked lasagna noodles. Give your little assistant fun jobs, such as washing and tearing lettuce, scrubbing potatoes, and stirring batter. Put pancake batter in a squeeze bottle and guide her hands as she squeezes the batter on the griddle in fun shapes, such as hearts, numbers, or even her name. The more you involve children in the food preparation, the more likely they are to try it and to enjoy it.
14. Organize It.
Give your child his own shelf space in the refrigerator. Reserve a low shelf for all of your child’s favorite nutritious foods and drinks. Nibbling on nutritious foods during the day mellows a child’s erratic moods by encouraging him to eat when he’s hungry. Giving your children a place of their own allows you to stock the shelf, and when they say, “Mom, I’m hungry,” you can say, “Help yourself to your shelf.”
15. Shrink It.
Keep servings small. Ever wonder why toddlers seldom clean their plates? A toddler’s tummy is about the size of his fist. As a graphic exercise, place your toddler’s fist next to the usual plateful of food you offer him. You can see the mismatch and understand why your child seldom finishes every bite on his plate. Grazing on frequent mini-meals throughout the day is more in keeping with a toddler’s temperament and tummy size. Think quality, not quantity when introducing healthy food for picky eaters.
16. Time It.
Studies show that children are most likely to try new foods when they are the most hungry.
17. Share It.
Let peer pressure work to your advantage. Try group feeding for introducing healthy food for picky eaters. Invite over a same age toddler who likes to eat nutritious foods and let your child catch the spirit. Or have a mini “dinner for two.” Offer the new foods: “Mommy takes a bite…Billy takes a bite.” Put the food on your plate. Capitalize on the copycat stage by setting your child on your lap and putting the new food on your plate. Proceed with enjoying the meal and watch your child start picking the new food off your plate. In our family we have noticed that our toddlers will try more foods while sitting on our laps and eating off our plates.
18. Exaggerate It.
Children love to play copycat. When introducing new, healthy food for picky eaters or one that has been previously refused, let your child see you eating it yourself. As you’re chomping on the broccoli floret, make a happy face. Smile (it’s okay to let a few greens show through your teeth) and say “Yum yum!” Your child is likely to want to grab a piece of broccoli off your plate and copy you.
19. Grow Healthy Food for Picky Eaters.
Planting a garden together a fun way to introduce healthy food for picky eaters. Kids are likely to eat what they help grow. They are so proud of their accomplishments that they can’t wait to taste what they grew.
Make every calorie count. Offer your child nutrient-dense foods. Kid favorites include salmon, avocado, cheese, eggs, sweet potatoes, nut butters, and yogurt. Count on inconsistency. Children may eat a food one day and then not touch it the next. As a parent our practice said, “The only thing consistent about feeding children is inconsistency.” Be flexible and don’t take it personally. Remember, your responsibility is to buy the right food, prepare it nutritiously, and serve it creatively. The rest is up to your child.