By Vicki Little
Planning and preparing a healthy meal for your family is hard enough, but fighting a picky eater is just exhausting. Dinner should be a time when the family can connect and savor their meal. Try these seven tips to make your family meal more enjoyable!
1. Let your child help. Kids love to help, and if they have invested a little time into making their meal, they will be more inclined to eat it. Helping out also allows them to understand what goes into putting good food on the table. You’ll also enjoy a little extra quality time together preparing dinner!
2. Have a “make your own dinner” night. Six nights a week, the kids are expected to eat what you serve. But in exchange, on the 7th night, they get to make whatever they choose for dinner — within reason of course. Have plenty of acceptable options that you know they’ll enjoy: frozen meals, toaster waffles, cereal, mac and cheese. It’s best if they can make it themselves, and it gives you a break as well.
3. Give your child a say. When you are shopping or meal-planning, ask them what they like to eat and then try to include something they’ve chosen in each meal. Offer what they like as a side dish, or you can pair a healthy side with a main meal they love.
4. Be mindful of little bellies. It is hard to remember just how small those bellies are, but kids can’t eat nearly as much as adults. A serving size of meat for them is about a third to half the size of your palm. A serving of vegetables is about 3 or 4 tablespoons
5. Make each bite count. When you have a particularly picky eater, or one that barely eats at all, make sure each bite is packed with nutrients. Offer high protein foods like cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, peanut butter and eggs. Only keep healthy items on hand for snacks, such as string cheese, frozen yogurt, raisins, vegetables and fruits.
6. Be consistent. While it’s good to change up your menu and also offer a few regular favorites (Taco Tuesday, anyone?), it’s most important to be consistent with your expectations. If you say they only have to eat half of their plate one day but everything the next day, they will test you every time. Don’t give them more than you expect them to eat, and encourage them to try new things. Some parenting experts discourage forcing kids to “clean their plate” since it can promote overeating. They recommend a two- or three-bite rule when it comes to trying new foods. If kids get hungry later, offer them leftovers from dinner – not dessert!
7. Give up the power struggle. Our pediatrician once told me that kids can control so little, and the few things they can control, they will fight for. Don’t engage in the fight. If you have said dinner is over when you are done eating, that is it. Set the rules and quietly go about them.
Do you have a picky eater? What is your secret to getting them to eat?
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. When she isn’t writing or trying to keep up with her kids she can be found volunteering, reading, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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