Family Strategies for Picky Eaters

Family Strategies for Picky Eaters

Family Strategies for Picky Eaters

Family Strategies for Picky Eaters

Food plays a pivotal role in family bonding, celebration, and discovering life's simple pleasures. It serves as a gateway for children to explore the world, whether through imaginative play with pretend food, involvement in meal preparation, or the shared enjoyment of a family meal.

It's natural for children to exhibit picky eating behaviors, as their taste buds evolve and they become more selective about what they consume, especially when it comes to vegetables. Parents and caregivers may understandably worry about whether their children are meeting their dietary requirements or feel stressed about preparing multiple dishes to accommodate everyone's preferences.

However, it's important for adults to recognize that expecting children to eagerly consume everything on their plate isn't always realistic. Instead, there are practical methods that can be implemented to broaden a child's palate while nurturing family bonds.

Below are some simple ways to start the process:

1. Schedule snack time in the afternoon at least 2-3 hours before dinner. This way, they'll have a chance to work up an appetite beforehand.

2. Understand a child's preferences and see what you can accommodate within reason. An older child who can eat independently may be more inclined to eat more without the pressure that can arise in a group table setting, even within the family.

3. Invite children to cook with you. Spending time together in the kitchen will make them feel more involved in the meal. Let them choose some of the ingredients or allow them to have a say in what's for dinner, even if it's just a side dish or the way the meal is presented on the plate.

4. Providing positive reinforcement is highly effective. When a child ventures into trying a new food, acknowledge their decision and offer applause. Pay attention to their preferences, and recommend similar foods, textures, or even colors based on what they enjoyed.

5. Set an example. If we want our children to develop healthy eating habits, we need to set an example. Explore various foods together, delve into the culinary traditions of different cultures, attend fairs, farmers' markets, bake sales, and any community events where food is available.

 

Embrace Food and Cooking Through Play

Playtime is an ideal method to introduce food into a child's life in a fun and meaningful way. Beyond being a hands-on activity, it prompts questions, conversations, and an ability to get to know the food preferences of everyone involved in playtime.

Below is a collection of PlanToys that will amaze and inspire children through play, paving the way for an enjoyable mealtime.

PlanToys Wonky Fruit & Vegetables

Wonky Fruit & Vegetables, suitable for ages 18M+, features 4 delightfully wonky food items and a knife for cutting. This set aids in teaching children the importance of all foods and encourages waste reduction.
PlanToys Seafood Platter
Seafood Platter, ideal for ages 2Yrs+, is an interactive pretend-play set. Fillet the fish, peel and devein the shrimp, and shuck the oyster. This encourages children to engage in the kitchen, expanding their culinary curiosity.
PlanToys BBQ Playset
BBQ Playset, suitable for ages 3Yrs+, offers the ultimate pretend-play cooking adventure with a variety of meats and vegetables. Featuring removable legs, it transforms into a tabletop dining experience. Perfect for multiple children and adults to enjoy together.
PlanToys Sushi Set

Sushi Set, suitable for ages 2Yrs+, is a perfect introduction to the joy of culinary dining in both play routines and real-life meals.

 

 

Insights from Our Community: Exploring Shared Experiences 

Courtney Sonnenburg is a parent, educator, and a passionate supporter of farmers' markets. Courtney shared with us why farmer's markets are such a significant aspect of their family routine and how we can all benefit from them in various ways, especially for families with picky eaters.

A wonderful weekend or weekday family experience is visiting and shopping at your local farmers market.

Our family has been shopping at our local market for years and we believe we are healthier and happier for doing so!

Below are some benefits:

  1. Diversity - exposing children to a variety of real whole foods. For example, the grocery store might have just "yellow peach" and "white peach" but at the market there are several varieties and most let you sample to see what you like!
  2. Freshness - most certified farmers markets pick their produce within 24-48 hours of arrival! Talk about fresh! The grocery store could be weeks or months. Therefore, you are eating produce with more nutrients!
  3. Community - supporting your local market not only helps the local economy but you also develop relationships with your farmers. We love our local farmers and they have been wonderful to our kids.
  4. Seasonal - when you shop at the market you are eating foods that are local to your area but also what is seasonally grown there which impacts your overall health.
  5. Fun - you never know what new vendor, musician, art project is at the market. Each week is different and the kids love sampling their way through the market!

To locate your local market you simply can do a google search of your area code and keyword "certified farmers market."

Also below are a few great website resources for finding your local market:

  1. Local Food Directories: National Farmers Market Directory
  2. Ecology Center

We hope you make this a weekly or monthly family tradition soon!

Follow Courtney at @the.curated.lyfe

 

Heather Morales is a parent and educator who integrates the joys of cooking into every aspect of her family's life. Heather shared with us tactics that you can employ to support picky eaters, along with a recipe for the most-loved shake in her family.

As a former picky eater turned culinary enthusiast, I made a pact with myself—I wasn't going to let my daughters inherit my old, finicky habits (at least try as much as I could to avoid it!) As a child, and well into my twenties, I ate the same types of meals, with not much variety. When I finally branched out from pasta and plain burgers, I set out on a mission to whip up meals that were not only nutritious but also elicited a chorus of "mmm's" around the dinner table after my oldest was born.

I have found throughout our food journey, there were a few tips and tricks that worked really well for our family. Does it work perfectly every single time? Of course not, children are tiny humans that are allowed to not “feel like” certain meals, or be apprehensive of trying new things. These recommendations are definitely not “one size fits all,” as every family is different, and we all have to do what works for our unique and beautiful family. Here are our tried and true tips that do help:

Getting Involved: Imagine your child, a tiny sous chef, that feels confident helping in the kitchen. Getting the kids involved in the kitchen isn't just about keeping them busy—it's about fostering a love affair with food from the ground up. Allowing my daughters and holding space for mistakes (spills happen) in the kitchen, was one of the best things we have ever done for them. From washing new types of vegetables, to baking cookies, inviting my daughters to help cook has offered numerous learning benefits (language opportunities, measuring, etc) and helped us all develop such a love of cooking. Whether they're stirring up pancake batter or helping knead bread, every whisk and sprinkle is a step toward culinary independence.

  1. Voice and Choice: Let's talk power moves—specifically, empowering your pint-sized food critics to call the shots at mealtime. From choosing between peas or carrots to deciding whether spaghetti belongs on their plate, giving kids a say in what lands on their plates can turn dinnertime into a democratic feast. I’m not saying you need to cook entirely separate meals - we are all busy parents, not a short order cook! - but offering small choices while making dinner, such as brown or white rice today, or allowing your children to choose constructed or deconstructed tacos on their plate gives them the feeling of independence and boosts their confidence with food.
  2. No Pressure: Chances are, if you try some of these tips for a picky eater, they’re not going to magically start trying new foods every day. It's all about the balance of creating a safe space, where trying new things is as exciting as discovering a hidden treasure. Offering the same foods differently (raw carrots, cooked, shredded) and simple, repeated exposure without any pressure, allows my daughters to see the food, and try it when they’re ready. My youngest never liked broccoli, but I would continue to put it on her plate whenever I made it a few times a week. For the first time in almost two years, she picked one up, ate it, and asked for more. It’s not always going to work immediately, but when it does, it’s such a magical moment.
  3. Play Time: Real kitchens are our favorite, but we also love and value pretend kitchen play. It's not just about whipping up imaginary feasts—it's about sparking creativity, building vocabulary, and instilling a sense of wonder in every sprinkle of make-believe seasoning. I love witnessing my daughters play and “make” something in their play kitchen that we made for a real meal just days before. There is such value in them repeating our recipes in their play kitchen, and they will even make up new recipes. Is there anything better? 
  4. Speaking of our favorite recipes, here is a simple one that we absolutely love. With a blender, a few ingredients, and some special helpers, this delicious shake takes less than five minutes!

Peanut Butter Date Shake:

(makes 2-3 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 frozen bananas (not frozen works too, just add a bit of ice)
  • 1 cup milk (we love soy, but anything works)
  • 3-5 pitted dates (can also add maple syrup or honey instead for sweetness)
  • A large spoonful of peanut butter or any nut/seed butter 
  • ½-¾ cup of frozen chopped spinach (fresh works too)
Children cooking together

Ingredients in measuring cup, preparing to be blended

Peanut butter shake being enjoyed

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Enjoy!

Follow Heather at @thedailygrove.

 

Fostering a love for food can be a delightful journey for both parents and kids. Discover more tips, tricks, and recipes from our community members, and embrace the joy of cooking together.

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