Are your kids picky eaters? Is every meal a battle, that you lose every single time? Have you thought about completely giving up on cooking all together?
Don’t worry I have been there too!
I would slave in the kitchen cooking the best meals I could prepare, just to have my 2 year old throw the food on the floor and say gross.
Full disclosure: I hate cooking, and I suck at cooking! So there was a pretty good chance that he was right about it being gross, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t even get him to try the food.
I slowly started to give up, and my son was eating macaroni and cheese more times a week than I would like to admit.
I decided it was time to put my foot down! If I allowed my kids to be picky eaters, then the situation would only get worse with time.
So here are 17 secrets for getting picky eaters to actually eat!
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1. Start Early
Just like anything else in parenting, the earlier you start, the easier it is.
Realistically, you should start trying to give your child a huge variety of foods as soon as they start eating baby food.
Remember if you are starting with baby food, always wait 3-4 days before introducing a new food to your baby.
If you are dealing with a toddler, make sure to start trying to get your toddler to eat new and different foods as soon as you notice they are starting to be picky eaters.
No matter what age your child is, and no matter what stage food they are eating, the time to start is NOW!
If you are reading this, it is because you are already dealing with picky eaters, so don’t be like me, and feed your child macaroni and cheese all the time, because you don’t know what else to do.
The longer you let the problem continue, the bigger the problem will become.
2. Get Hyped-Up
Remember that whatever food you are serving to your kids, is the BEST FOOD EVER!
Act as though there is nothing better on this planet than the food you are about to serve.
Talk to your kids about the food as you are preparing it (with as much excitement as you can).
Talk about how the peas are green and super yummy. Sing and dance about the peas as you cook them.
If you are excited, then your kids will be excited. They might not like the food, but this will encourage your kids to at least try it. What I have found is that 90% of the time, when a kids tries a food, they will actually like it. It’s all about getting your kids to just try it.
3. Have Your Picky Eaters Help Prepare The Food
If your children are involved in the cooking process, they will be more willing to try the food.
They are going to want to try out the creation they just helped put together.
Even having your kids help with small tasks in the kitchen can make a huge difference. Have your kids poor the food into bowls or pots, stir the food, and help set the table.
If helping in the kitchen is not possible due to safety reasons (hot stove or sharp knives), have them pull up a chair and watch how the food is put together.
4. Let Your Kids Decide What Is On The Menu
I know, I know, you probably think I am crazy for even suggesting this, but just hear me out.
Don’t just ask your kids what they want for dinner, because your picky eaters will probably say ice cream and candy.
But you can give your children choices. Ask them, “do you want corn or broccoli with dinner?”
With this method, you are offering your child two different appropriate options, so it really doesn’t matter which one they choose.
However when you child has the autonomy to make their own decisions, they will be more likely to follow that decision through and eat the food they chose for dinner.
5. Prepare The Food Differently
So once again, I am terrible at cooking. I rely on cookbooks and Pinterest to guide me through cooking every meal. Time and time again, I am completely amazed at how many different ways you can cook one food item.
Just because your child doesn’t like scrambled eggs, doesn’t mean they will not like eggs cooked a different way.
What I mean is, if your child refuses to eat the scrambled eggs that you cooked, don’t give up on eggs completely. Just try to serve eggs cooked differently in a few days.
My son refuses to eat cooked carrots, but he loves raw carrots. It might be something to do with the texture. However, if I had crossed carrots of my list after he refused to eat them cooked, then I never would have found out that he will actually eat carrots if they are raw.
6. Offer Condiments
I don’t know about you, but I cannot eat a steak with A1 or a hotdog without ketchup and mustard.
Condiments just make food so much better.
I found that my son really enjoys the act of dipping his food, even if it is chicken nuggets into yogurt. 😬 It’s a way he can play with his food, without getting told to stop.
If your child enjoys ranch, offer ranch with every food, even if it sounds disgusting to you.
It doesn’t have to be a condiment, just add any food that your child really enjoys to every meal.
For my son- it’s cheese! We put cheese on eggs, salads, pasta, and pretty much everything else.
7. Distract, Distract, Distract
I am all about table manners, but I had to ask myself what was more important- table manners or getting my picky eaters to actually eat?
You might disagree, but I decided getting my picky eaters to actually eat was most important, and table manners could be tomorrow’s problem.
There are some days, where we turn the TV on, and my son gets so zoned into the TV, he doesn’t even realize what he is eating. He will completely clear his plate without taking his eyes off of the TV.
Shake your head at me all you want, but parenting comes with picking your battles. You win some and you lose some.
On days like this, I might lose the ‘screen time’ and ‘table manners’ battle, but I win the ‘eating your food’ battle.
8. Don’t Let Your Kids Snack Too Much
Snacks are a wonderful thing; they keep kids happy and busy. When you do give snacks, make sure they are healthy, small, and never to close to meal time.
If your child gets full on snacks 30 minutes before dinner, you are pretty much digging your own grave.
Make sure your kids are hungry and ready to eat come meal time.
9. Don’t Talk About The Food
You might be thinking, “but wait, you just told me to sing and dance and get super excited about the food we are eating?”
Yes, talk about the food before you serve it, and even after you serve it.
But when your child does start eating it, change the subject to something else. If you bring back the attention to the spinach that your child is eating, they might realize what they are actually eating and refuse to continue.
Think about this for a minute. Let’s say you have a cut on your arm. You might not notice that it hurts when you are focused on other things, but when you start thinking about, it will start hurting again.
This is the same thing that will happen if you talk about the food that your picky eaters are eating.
10. Don’t Force Your Picky Eaters To Eat
Toddlers like to be independent and make their own decisions. You could give your child their favorite food, but if you try to force them to eat it, they might refuse.
The worst thing you can do for picky eaters, is to try and shove the food into their mouths.
Think about how you would act if someone tried to do this to you. Someone could be trying to shove chocolate into your mouth, but just because they are trying to force you, you would probably refuse to eat it.
11. Make Fun Foods
If you ever watch any cooking show, then you know it is all about the presentation!
Don’t think that this will change when serving food to kids.
I cut sandwiches into dinosaurs and eggs into cars.
Also splurge on cool plates and silverware for you kids. If your child’s plate has an awesome picture on it, they will want to eat there food so they can see the picture.
12. Become A Food Package Designer
My son is obsessed with Paw Patrol. I made the mistake of buying Paw Patrol yogurt, and the next time I bought the regular old fashioned yogurt, my son refused to eat it.
I was talking to my husband, and I was like I just don’t get it…THEY TASTE THE SAME!
Then a lightbulb went off!!
I snuck into my son’s room stole his Paw Patrol stickers, and I put them all over the regular yogurt containers.
Guess who was practically begging to eat yogurt? Yup, that’s right, my son ate the entire thing of yogurt, and I have been doing this ever since.
If I buy something I know my son will not want to try, I stick awesome stickers all over the packaging, and he will usually try it right away.
13. Make Smoothies
So this will obviously only works for some foods. I wouldn’t try throwing a cheeseburger into the blender, because this might make your children refuse to eat for the rest of their lives.
However, putting fruit and veggies into a blender is a great idea!
My son loves bananas and berries. So I put a banana, some berries, some milk, and then add secret ingredients- like spinach!
Add more of the ingredients that your kids love, and try to sneak in the ingredients that your kids refuse to eat. They probably won’t even notice that you added it.
Bonus: If you want to treat your kids, add ice cream!
14. Bribe Your Picky Eaters
So I am actually really against bribing kids, because then they will only do what you ask for something in return.
However, if I plan on serving dessert after a meal anyways. I might mention to my son that if he eats his food, cake is going to be coming his way.
I guess I wouldn’t really call this bribing, just reminding him of what he can get if he does eat all of his food.
15. Trick Your Picky Eaters
Okay, so this probably sounds really bad, but just let me finish.
Sometimes kids will not even try food, just because they do not know what it is.
My son loves fish stick, pasta, and cheese. I made Chicken Parmesan one night, and he refused to eat it. Like he would barely even look at it.
I told him it was fish sticks filled with cheese and covered in pasta sauce! He finally looked at the food, he saw cheese and sauce, and decided to give it a try .
He ate everything that was on his plate, and he even asked for seconds.
I always try to be as honest with my kids as possible, but as a parent, sometimes you just need to outsmart your kids. This is one situation where this is acceptable!
16. Keep Trying
Trying to get your picky eaters to actually eat is all about consistency. Don’t give up! If your child refuses to eat, try again in a week or two.
Just because they didn’t like something today, doesn’t mean they won’t like it next month. The same goes for foods your kids already eat. Just because they loved something today, doesn’t mean they will love it next week.
Try to serve a huge variety of foods to your kids as often as you possibly can.
17. It Is Okay If They Don’t Like A Food
As an adult, do you like every food that you have ever tried?
There are going to be foods, that no matter what you try, your child just isn’t going to like it.
The idea is to get picky eaters to try different types of food, because chances are they will like a majority of them. If your picky eaters try a certain type of food, and they do not like it, then there is not much you can do.
You can always try to serve the food at a later date, and maybe they will change their minds. As long as your child is willing to give the food a chance, that is all that matters.
Every kids loves mashed potatoes, right? Nope, not my son. He hasn’t liked them since day one, no matter how hard I try.
I have stopped trying to get him to eat mashed potatoes, because he has actually tried them on multiple occasions, and just doesn’t like them.
So what am I missing? How do you get your picky eaters to actually eat? Let me know in the comments below! 😃