What to Do With Picky Eaters in Your House?
Read on for some good practical suggestions.
Do you have picky eaters in your house?
We used to have a houseful of picky eaters and it wasn’t just the kids! My husband was super picky, having only a small array of foods that he would eat. Now I know a lot of folks are thinking to themselves that being picky is a sign of being spoiled or not valuing the ability to have food, etc. I understand this mindset and in some cases these are valid concerns. However, having that attitude does nothing to solve the problem and serves only to antagonize and alienate those folks who are currently in the trenches trying to help move family members move beyond this. Therefore, for the sake of this post, I’m just going to ignore that valid (but useless) point. If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.
7 Tips To Help Picky Eaters Try New Foods
1. Be careful of expectations.
Sometimes our own expectations of picky eaters inadvertently take away their ability to explore new foods. When we make something and say “Oh but you won’t eat this, it has ____ in it” or we avoid placing something new on their plate, we are sending the signal that this behavior is expected of them. Instead, I like to remove expectations and treat every meal, especially ones with new foods, as if it is going to be enjoyed by all. When a picky eater doesn’t try something new on their plate, I ignore it and place it there again next time, with full expectations each time that they will eventually try it. It is amazing how often this has worked!
2. Teach about nutrition.
One of the most important things we can do to help picky eaters it to teach them nutrition. Explain how a body works and runs and the role that a variety of foods plays in that. Point out how certain foods give us more energy, certain foods make us feel tired, etc. Kids are never too young to start teaching them about how to fuel their bodies and you’ll be surprised at how much this logic will go on to fuel their future food choices!
3. Let them play a role.
From the time my kids were little, I have always loved taking them grocery shopping. I would challenge them to go into the produce section and pick out a new fruit or veggie they wanted to try. This got them personally invested in that veggie and rooting for everyone to love it because they had been the ones to pick it out. Note: This strategy works for people of all ages!
My daughter is fourteen and really interested in nutrition right now. She’s overhauled the entire household with her way of eating by setting an example. She has learned about nutrition and discovered that she feels her best when she has lots of fresh foods and lean protein. She’s quit sugar almost entirely (except for the rare treat) and drinks only water as her beverage of choice. When she first started eating this way it was hard for me to find foods she liked and would eat. This wasn’t being picky, it was her trying to eat in a way that made her feel her best.
So, I started taking her to the grocery store with me. I had taught her long ago how to read nutrition labels and as I shopped she would go up and down the aisled looking for new things that she wanted to try. Through doing this, over time, our pantry has been absolutely transformed. We have all tried and discovered new favorites when it comes to meals, snacks, and even treats. We gave Katy an opportunity to help shape and form our meals and she has ended up transforming them for the better.
4. Everything doesn’t have to be your favorite.
This is something that is important to realize and to impress on kids even though I first took notice of this in my husband. As I mentioned earlier, he had a very limited selection of things he would eat. I started out catering to that a little bit but quickly grew tired of such limited meals. I am a big veggie person and for years my husband only recognized potatoes as a valid veggie for eating.
One day, I sat down and said “You know, everything you eat doesn’t have to be your favorite. You’re over 40 now, your body would like it if you ate a green bean now and then.” He thought about it and, being a very reasonable person, agreed to try some the next day. With that one revelation, he began trying a wide array of veggies and now pretty much eats whatever I cook. Of course, there are a few veggies he really doesn’t like but he did try them several times before determining that.
5. Be trustworthy
If you know your picky eater hates avocados, don’t try to get them to try something with avocados prominently featured and lie about it. Look for new foods that you sincerely think they will enjoy. The goal is for their trust in you to prove fruitful and beneficial to them. And again, if you know there is a moral issue, show them that you take that seriously and make a noticable effort to accommodate that. Each of these behaviors helps to build trust and makes people more likely to try out your food suggestions in the future.
6. Take advantage of new environments in which there is no expected behavior.
One of the best times to get picky eaters to try new foods is while traveling or on vacation. In new environments, patterns of behavior haven’t been set and people are far more willing to try new things. Once, when we were on vacation, Katy was hungry and the only thing readily available were chicken egg rolls. Katy had never been willing to try cabbage or egg rolls at home but this was a new place, she was hungry, and they were available so I bought us each one. To this day, she still loves egg rolls and that one instance of trying new foods successfully led her to try a lot of new foods on that trip.
7. Be Patient
I’ve used each of these strategies in my home and we now have a house full of folks who eat a wide variety of foods. Meal planning is pretty simple as a result and our diets have a good variety of different “fuel” sources. I want to encourage you to be patient! Some young children are often put off by different textures and strong flavors but they will outgrow that over time. My Katy once went an entire year when she was two eating mostly orange foods! Carrots, cantaloupe, cheese, and orange yogurt kept her going during this crazy toddler time. This way of eating seemed to begin overnight and end just as quickly as she moved on to eating pretty much whatever was placed in front of her, only to get a little picky again years later. She’s now one of the healthiest eaters I know.
What are some of your helpful tips for picky eaters?
I’d love to hear your helpful tips in the comments and stories of what has worked for you. Of course, humor is ALWAYS welcome as well so hit us up with your crazy tales of picky eaters.