Many parents struggle with how to make their kid love to eat healthy food. Naturally, all parents want their children to grow up to be healthy and strong. They beg and plead and try to convince their kids to eat their vegetables. They become frustrated when this doesn’t work.
Indeed, some parents even punish their kids for refusing to eat well-balanced foods. For example, they make the child sit at the table until he finishes his fruit. That is a tactic which most definitely fails. In fact, it may have the opposite effect and cause the child to dislike that food even more.
You get the picture. Begging, pleading, cajoling, reasoning, and bullying don’t work. Furthermore, we agree that these actions may increase the child’s aversion to the food in question.
I learned this firsthand. My daughter went through a chicken nugget phase when she was 7 years old. Literally, she only ate chicken nuggets. No dipping sauces, no fruit, no veggies. In fact, she even stopped eating milk and cereals. I got lucky, and she got unlucky. She got a raging case of the flu and started drinking sports drinks and eating gelatin. So I was able to “re-program” her while she was down for the count. Evil, right?
So the question remains: What’s a parent to do? First and foremost, remember that healthy eating is a learned habit. Children learn best if we, as parents, make the skill fun. Fun, hands-on learning activities are proven to engage children’s attention for longer, stimulate their senses (including taste!), and help them process and retain information.
To make picky eaters try new foods, try these activities and games at meal times.
Tip 1: The Color Game (Ages 2-5)
Kids are attracted to colors. They love to point out an object and tell you what color it is. They are very sensory and love to finger paint, immersing their hands into colors. They want to interact with vibrant colors. This means that you can use this fascination with colors to turn snack time into a game. Remember that this is supposed to be FUN for them. Make this a big, fun game and remain enthusiastic. Your child may react to your encouragement by eating the healthier food.
The Color Game goes like this. You provide a tray of a few brightly colored healthy snacks. Picture carrots, apples, celery, oranges, berries, grapes attractively arranged on a tray. You tell your child to pick a snack that is purple. If you’re lucky, he will choose a grape and eat it. Challenge him to choose a red snack and he chooses a strawberry. Ask him to find a green snack and he chooses a bite of celery.
As he plays in this game, stay engaged with your child. Above all, stay positive and encouraging. In fact, act as though he just split the atom–overjoyed with the victory is still not uncool with children this age. Trust me, enjoy this enthusiasm while you can; in a few years you will be considered an embarrassment.
Even if he only eats a bite or two or fruit or vegetable, at least he tried it! Also, he practiced learning his colors. Incorporate this game every day at snack time and stay consistent. He will start to look forward to his snack…and you probably will too!
Tip 2: The Shape Game (Ages 2-5)
Every night you sit down and your child only wants one thing. A hot dog. No bread for any kind of fiber. No ketchup for any nutrition. Just a plain hot dog. Period. You know it’s not healthy but you want her to eat something, so you give in and feed her a hot dog.
Make dinnertime more pleasant for your family by playing the Shape Game. Fix an all natural peanut butter on wheat bread sandwich. Remove the crust to make it a square. Perhaps even cut it diagonally to make a triangle. Take thin slices of cheese and use a star shaped cookie cutter on them. Cut up some kiwi fruit which usually is fairly round. Take whatever healthy food options you have, and use whatever tools you have to create fun shapes.
Like the Color Game, you will engage with your child. Make a big deal when she makes a healthy choice. Again, you will encourage to the point of over the top. Clap your hands and tell her how smart she is.
Tell her to find a star to put on her plate, a circle, a triangle, etc. Because she has been included in choosing the foods, she will be more apt to actually eat the foods. Plus, because you are cheering on the sidelines she will want to continue to get this positive attention.
Tip 3: Meal Plan With Your Child (Ages 5-7)
Another fun activity for older toddlers and your school aged children is meal planning. They love to help Mommy or Daddy plan a shopping trip. It’s big fun to children to ride around in the shopping buggy looking at all the brightly colored rows of foods.
Ask his input. Maybe there is a food he would like to try that you haven’t thought of. His answer may very well surprise you. For example, when my daughter recovered from her bout with the flu, I asked her what food she wanted to eat for dinner. Her answer surprised and pleased me! She asked to try to make guacamole with me. I was tickled to death that she wanted to try such a healthy food. Fortunately, she didn’t even ask for chicken nuggets to dip in the guac.
Also, if you ask your child’s input it makes him feel like part of your team. Instead of working against him in a power struggle over meals, you are working together to select healthier foods.
In conclusion, remember that arguing with a toddler just won’t work. It’s definitely much easier to break through to young children by fostering a fun and engaging learning environment. So for this little while in their lives, just let your child play with his food.