As parents, we’ve all been there. Picture the scene: It’s been a hard day of juggling work alongside parenting and running a home, with home-schooling and housekeeping slotted in between. You’ve just finished preparing dinner, laid the table and called the family over. And that’s the moment your 4-year-old starts screaming “I don’t want to eat that!!” Persuasion, pleading, explaining, sneaking, maybe even bribery...you try all of them in vain, but you just cannot get your child to eat their food.
Picky eaters are a common cause of stress for so many parents, and most would gladly soak up any handy tips, advice and hacks that can be offered to make the situation better.
So, sit back and enjoy the following tips we’ve put together.
1. Learn about food
When kids take ownership of their food, they’re usually more likely to eat it after. And the process can start right at the beginning of the food cycle!
Our top tip during the summer months is to take advantage of pick-your-own farms - if one is nearby to you, take the kids out to get them picking seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s fun and educational! Not only will the whole family enjoy a bumpy tractor ride through the fields but getting the kids to see how food is grown and where it comes from early on in their lives is a great way to lay the foundation for good nutritional sense later on. In our experience, something they’ve picked themselves that they see later on their dinner plate will more likely get gobbled up.
2. Get them involved
Having kids be involved in the kitchen works too. Basic food preparation, assembling easy dishes and the odd stir with a wooden spoon is enough to spark their interest and taking more note into what’s going on, and what they’re eating. A pizza they’ve thrown toppings onto will again more likely end up in their tummies – and there are plenty of easy recipes you can source to try new things using different ingredients.
3. Be a role model
Kids learn by example, so setting that example right from the offset is really important and can really help.
We think preparing the same foods for the whole family wherever possible works well, so that your little one can see everyone eating and enjoying the same thing as they have in front of them. Demonstrating to your child how to eat certain foods is vital, plus showing them that there can be delight in what they’re eating will motivate them further. Let’s face it, your kids are always watching and they’re always absorbing, whether you’re aware of it or not – so lead the meal and show them how it’s done.
4. Offer new foods first
Picking your battles is a key element of parenting, and timing things well will really help
If there’s something new to try on their menu, we recommend you start with that first. Kids are hungry at the start of mealtimes, and therefore more likely to accept things you offer them at the beginning, whether they look foreign to them or not, as opposed to at the end of the meal, when their tummies are full and their concentration levels are zero.
5. Make mealtimes fun
Creating a positive environment for your child to try new foods can give you a better chance of success.
We’re not talking about full-on Brady Bunch scenes at the dinner table, but more realistic changes you can think about. Ensuring you’re starting your meal off in a positive, sociable, happy atmosphere can create the calm and peace your young child needs to eat well and accept new foods. As parents, encouraging communication within the family, as opposed to screen-time and other distractions, not only works to bring the family closer together anyway, but supports your little one and appeases any desire to make a fuss.
Having consistent mealtimes and evoking a sense of routine will also support your efforts – when children see something becoming done often, it quickly becomes the norm in the household, and there’s less conflict going forward.
Have you tried any of these out yourself? Have they worked? Or maybe you know of something else we haven’t mentioned that has worked for your family? Do let us know in the comments below.
And in the meantime, our main piece of advice to all parents out there is: hang in there. It’s easy with young children to get frustrated and feel like there is no end in sight. Tensions are high at mealtimes, when all you want is for your little one to have nutritious food. But remember, most children grow out their picky eating phase. And you’re doing a great job as a parent. So, don’t worry. You got this!