Kids are tough eaters.
Some start off strong and become pickier over time. Some struggle right from the beginning. Some even having eating phobias. Whatever type of child you have, they all go through phases of food preferences. It could be they only like a certain color food. Maybe even a certain texture food is off limits or only for them. They might also just have a fear of trying new foods in general. So, I’ll say it again for those that need the reassurance, kids are tough eaters. REALLY TOUGH EATERS.
But, they come around… eventually, right? You and I did….right? Well, I still have textural issues with some mushy foods (I’m talking to you cooked tomatoes and mushrooms), but I have come a long way from the boiled chicken breasts, muenster cheese, rolls and raw fruits and veggies I ate as a kid.
Even my own girls have major eating differences – Amelia was an ok eater from the start. But she is definitely head-strong. She would eat a variety of food groups, like fruit, but maybe only 2-3 kinds and they had to be cut in specific ways. Even when I started her on purees, she told me after 13 weeks of eating them that she was done. And she literally refused them and never went back. I had to learn about feeding her the hard way. Since then, she’s gone through up and down phases, but at almost 4 now, she definitely eats way more than she did at 1.
Now, Matilda on the other hand, starting eating solids at 4 months. She was born early and hungry right from the start. Milk, even though I had an oversupply, was never enough for her. The day I introduced solids to her, she shoved it all in her mouth and never looked back. She was born at 4lbs+ in the 3rd percentile and today at 19 months, she’s sitting happy at 23lbs in the 45% percentile. Food has always been her friend. Her best friend! And her superpower. But, right around 15 months (which also coincided with her teeth coming in), she started to develop preferences. Not color or textural, just preferences for what she wanted and what she didn’t (from what my pediatrician tells me, 15 months is the magical number of when food preferences begin).
Even in the same household, two kids raised the same can have two very different eating habits. So, what do you do if you have a kid who won’t eat… x,y,z….??? I have a few suggestions that I learned over the years that I want to share. I will say I’m not a doctor, nurse, food specialist, eating specialist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, or any other specialist. I’m a mom of two amazing girls sharing what I learned from them and other amazing mom friends.
I’ve put together a list of 5 main categories of eating that I see as being ways to overcome eating challenges. Here’s the breakdown:
- Use different colors in every meal: We eat using our eyes, so the more color and variety, the more appealing it will look. Perhaps the colors will even push them to try something new!
- Deliver food in different ways: try different plates, no plate, bento boxes, lunchboxes, new silverware and cups, special napkins, etc… sometimes, it’s simply what the food is on or in that’s deterring them. And an extra tip – let them pick whatever plate/lunchbox/napkin/etc… so they feel more in control of what they’re eating.
- Expose them over and over and over: It can take dozens of exposures to a food (sometimes more!) before a kid will even tough a new food. Even if they don’t eat it, put something new on every single plate they eat. Try different foods, different colors, different shapes, different textures, etc…) over and over and over until they try it. And even then, they might not like it the first 20 times. Keep trying. They will!
- Rebrand food names: Try renaming things like saying: sprinkles instead of chia seeds…. Green muffins vs. Monster muffins…. Banana smoothie vs. banana ice cream…. Veggie meatballs vs rainbow meatballs. It could just be what you’re calling the food. You can even ask them to name it to make it more fun!
- Hide food: If all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with hiding foods in places they can’t see… I have some suggestions below!
So, let’s talk about each one in a little more detail:
1. Use different colors in every meal. Like I mentioned above, we eat with our eyes, so make it look yummy or they won’t even give it a second look!
Here, I laid out a rainbow of protein/dairy (egg & cheese) and fruit and veg (plums, carrots & avocado). Matilda ate every last bite!
2. Deliver food in different ways: sometimes, a basic plate just isn’t going to cut it. Now, that’s not to say you should do this for every single meal (because we all know that would drive anyone insane), but when they are stuck, tired or sick, sometimes, just changing the food vessel can make all the difference.
Here, I tried serving familiar and new foods in a muffin tin tray and kabobs made of fruit when Amelia was protesting fruit. Both work when needed and both lead to healthier food options.
3. Expose them over and over and over: I learned about eating challenges with Amelia so I didn’t want to make the same mistake with Matilda. I started introducing complex, combined, bold flavors from the start and it paid off. She loves strong sauces, cheeses, tropical fruits, and spices.
Here, I sprinkle her yogurt with pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon and mix in some honey. I used a veggie sauce for her chicken and broccoli and now, I always keep a spare kiwi on hand in case I run out. She adores them!
4. Rebrand food names: Sometimes, all it takes is calling food a different name for kids to try it. In Amelias dinner below, I added what I called ‘sprinkles’ to her – in actuality, they are chia seeds. The spaghetti? Cheesy pasta. If I call it pasta and sauce, she won’t go near it! Another idea? Frozen pureed bananas = banana ice cream rather than a whole banana (which she also won’t eat). In this form with this name, she’ll eat an entire bowl and be none the wiser that it’s just a frozen pureed banana.
5. Hide food: When all else fails, hiding veggies in food is a great option too. Sometimes, kids just don’t want to think about food and that’s ok. I like to hide things like chopped up broccoli in english muffin pizzas, hemp hearts in nut butter sandwiches and tons of chopped up veggies in meatballs. I’ve even pureed butternut squash into tomato sauce. The girls gobble the foods up and it’s an easy meal for everyone.
Other ideas – if you are lucky enough to have kids who love smoothies, try adding spinach to their smoothies. They won’t taste it and it’s SUCH a healthy option. What if they don’t like the green color, you ask? Try putting it in a water bottle that isn’t clear.
I hope some of these work for you and your kids. Have some more ideas for how you get your kids to eat more veggies? I’d love to hear! Let me know in the comments below!