10 Tips to Help Moms With Picky Eaters

 By Guest Blogger Lisa Holcomb

Got picky kids when it comes to food, at least nutritious food?  Do your kids try to crawl under the table when they see broccoli on the table?  Do they try to slip the dog their squash only to find the dog won’t eat it either?  You’re not alone!  It seems to be a fairly common phenomenon among households with kids.  And, not just young children either.  Older kids can be picky eaters as well.

I have been blessed with having both teenagers and younger kids, all at the same time.  Both age groups with different dietary needs and different likes and dislikes when it comes to food.  My teenage boys are athletic, physical, and growing boys.  Even though they both look full grown (at 6 feet tall), they are still growing and their bodies, inside and outside, need the right foods to help them with this.

My two younger children have different needs, both physically and emotionally when it comes to food.  They are both adopted, and we have had to learn the challenges of dealing with children who have had to go hungry in their past.  Hunger can do many things to you emotionally.  We have had to help our children understand that they won’t ever go hungry again.  That they don’t need to hoard food or overeat.  It hasn’t been an easy journey, and it will be a long road ahead, but we are trying to help them understand by always having nutritious meals and snacks (and sometimes not so nutritious snacks just for the fun of it) made available to them.

All of my kids are different eaters with different palates.  My 15 year old son has a sweet tooth that never seems to end.  I think sweet TEETH is more like it!  It’s a constant struggle to get him to lay off the sweets.  My 18 year old, on the other hand, could really care less about sweets.  My 8 and 9 year old are very food-focused and just want to eat. And I cannot blame them, given their background.

In the process of raising 6 kids (2 of mine are already grown so they and their taste buds are on their own), I’ve come up with some strategies that have helped my family over the years. It is now my business at BuildAMenu.com.

Here are 10 Tips To Help You With Your Picky Eaters:

1.      Respect their appetites – If they really aren’t hungry, don’t try to force them to eat.  Don’t bribe them to clean their plates.  And please don’t use the starving children act.  Likewise, if your child has a tendency toward overeating, help him or her to understand what it means to be full.  We quite often ask one of our younger ones, “is your tummy comfortable?”  That’s when you need to stop.  Do not make them feel guilty or bad for how little or much they eat.

2.     Encourage but don’t force-  Encourage kids to try new foods but don’t force it on them.  They’ll just hate that zucchini even more.  When our 15 year old was younger, he would never eat his spaghetti with the sauce.  Just the noodles.  We kept telling him he was missing out on the best part.  One day we asked him to try a little taste of the sauce and if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to eat it.  He obliged and took a tiny little taste.  Then he grabbed up the spoon and started eating the sauce straight from the pan.  Stinker has been eating sauce on his spaghetti ever since.

3.     Let them help with the meal planning-  That’s the most fun part for in my menu planning service.  After the menus are out for that week, I will let the whole family decide what we are eating for the week.  It makes a huge difference when they have had a say so on what to eat.  They don’t always agree, but we manage.

4.     Let them help with the cooking-  I hear moms say that they would love to let their kids help in the kitchen but they don’t want to deal with the extra mess.  Well, put on your big girl pants and deal with it!  It’s a great bonding time, a time to teach kids responsibility (you helped make the mess, you help clean). Additionally, if they cook it, they are much more likely to eat it.  Trust me, it works.

5.     Have fun with meals- My family LOVES breakfast for dinner.  Pancakes, waffles, omelets, you name it.  Try having special dipping sauces (Ranch dressing works wonders) for veggies at meal times and snack times.  For some reason, kids love to dip their food in things.

6.     Give them their own cookbook- There are a lot of cookbooks out there that are geared to kids of all ages.  My younger boys love to look at the pictures and plan out the things they are going to make.  My youngest one now wants his own apron, chef hat and cooking show too.  Hmmm….

7.     Become friends with the smoothie- Do you know how much you can hide in a simple smoothie?  Lots.  And, your little picky eaters will never know the difference.  You can pack a lot of nutrition in a smoothie.  So what if it’s consumed through a straw?

8.     Set the example- You can’t get your little mini me’s to eat nutritiously when they see you eating McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts.  Not that I don’t love donuts.  Because I do.  I really LOVE donuts. However, donuts aren’t the norm for us.  Set the example by making nutritious eating a priority in your own life. Let them SEE you eating healthy food. You set the example… it comes from the top.

9.     Pizza, Fries, Sodas, Oh My!  Teenagers are notorious for wanting to live off junk.  Mine are no exception.  They want their bodies to look good so they can strut their stuff, but they want to eat junk.  As a parent of teens, it can be a real challenge once they start going off on their own more and more.  You aren’t always there to control what they are eating.  Plan on having as many sit-down meals as possible (sitting down at your own table and not McDonalds) during the week.  Your family needs the bonding time as well as the proper nutrition they receive from home-cooked meals.

10.  Relax-  Don’t be the nutrition/food police .  It’s ok (really it is) to have a donut every now and then.  The occasional candy bar is ok in my book as well.  What you don’t want is to make it the norm.  However, life is just too short to go through it without Cookies and Cream Ice Cream.  Speaking of….I think I hear some Blue Bell Ice Cream calling me…

Life is about enjoying the yummy things, and being smart at the same time. Your grandma was right– MODERATION is key!

Happy eating!

~Lisa

About Lisa Holcomb…

Lisa Holcomb lives near Austin, Texas with her husband, Will, and their four boys, ages 8-17 (her oldest two children are married and have babies of their own, and Lisa & Will’s two youngest boys are adopted). Lisa has a degree in Child and Family Development and is a strong advocate for family meal time. Lisa is the co-founder of BuildAMenu.com that helps families keep their grocery budget under control and helps bring families back to the dinner table. She has done much research on the positive effects and benefits of families that eat meals together, as well as the negative effects not eating together as a family can have on children and teens, and is educating families on her research. Her mission is that Build A Menu will be able to bring family meal times back to the table. A portion of all the proceeds from Build A Menu goes towards orphan care ministries.

Are YOUR kids picky eaters? I know I struggle greatly, and sit on the fence almost daily with what to cook, and how to satisfy all the different palates. How do you deal with your picky eaters? Please share some of your challenges or tips.

xoxEDxox 

15 Comments
  1. Great post, Lisa. Thanks for sharing. My youngest (7) is a super picky eater. He doesn’t even like eating ice cream! It’s too cold for him. Doesn’t like yogurt either, so a smoothie is real tough.

    He does love turkey burgers though and eats salmon and chicken without complaining too much. It’s the other things like pasta, ravioli, even tuna fish, that we’d love to get him onto. Lunch is just brutal since he pretty much just eats a bagel and cheese stick everyday. We’ll keep trying though. Patience is the biggest key!

  2. @Andrew- Doesn’t like ice cream? Now that’s a first. That’s great that he loves turkey, salmon and chicken. You don’t have to worry about his protein. You’re right though, patience is the key. Thanks for the comments!

  3. My kids kill me daily. Meal time has always been and continues to be a great source of frustration. These tips are very helpful. I will stop trying to force feed Thank you.

  4. Thank you for the great post Lisa! A year ago, being so frustrated with my two boys not wanting to eat anything I cooked I decided to stop cooking. I told them that they were allowed to eat whatever they like as long as it was fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread and yogurt. Now, my older boy, who is a pre-teen and who is growing like crazy will eat anything I put in front of him. He is hungry all the time. My little one, who will soon turn 9 is also starting to eat more. YE!!!!!!!!!

    1. Great strategy! Letting them make choices (even if they are limited choices) has helped them make good eating choices. I use that same strategy with my younger kids at times. Give them a choice of several healthy snacks and they feel like they are in control. Good job mom!

  5. Lisa, I have struggled for years. I eat like a man, my husband eats like a woman, my eldest son eats 3 things, and my baby eats everything (but has a terrible sweet tooth). Every day is a fight to give them the salmon, quinoa and good stuff I like to feed myself and my family (my husband is game for healthy food thankfully). It’s a constant compromise. One meal chicken, next meal mac and cheese for the kids. It’s the making of 2 different meals frustrates me, because I feel my husband and I shouldn’t miss out on a healthy meal, so if they don’t want salmon, I WILL make them a grilled cheese, for example.

    As the movie is titled, It’s Complicated! Hoping my kids will broaden their palates soon. Great post. 😉

    1. It is complicated, isn’t it? Sometimes if we’re having fish (NONE of my kids like fish but my husband and I really like it) I’ll make sure there’s sides with protein that they will hopefully eat. They like beans (partly because of the comments that eating beans brings on. They are boys after all) so that’s always a good option for mine since beans have protein. I found however, that as mine get older and more mature, so do their taste buds and they are more willing to try new things. I bet that happens with yours as well. 🙂

  6. Thanks for the tips. I have a very picky 6 1/2 yr old. We’re talking dry bagel and turkey every day for lunch. I would love to try a smoothie. Do you have any favorite smoothie recipes or books?

    1. Rowena, kids can sure get into ruts just like adults can can’t they? I do have some favorite smoothie recipes that my kids enjoy. Both of these come from my menu planning site, http://www.BuildAMenu.com. One is a fruit smoothie and the other is a veggie smoothie. Hope they work for you. 🙂

      Berry Delicious Smoothie (serves 4-6 but you can cut it down)
      3 cups frozen mixed berries
      1 1/2 cups strawberry yogurt
      2 bananas sliced
      1/2 cups milk
      3/4 tsp sugar
      In blender, combine mixed berries, strawberry yogurt, banana, sugar. Cover, blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.

      Green Slime Smoothie (The name might gross you or I out but kids love it!)
      1 Banana, cut in chunks
      ½ Apple, cored and chopped or sliced
      1 cup Grapes
      1 cup Fat-Free Vanilla Yogurt
      1-2 cups fresh Spinach Leaves
      Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.
      Makes 1 serving

      The fruit in a green smoothie is great for kids because it adds some sweetness and helps to disguise the veggies. 🙂

      Lisa

  7. Sometimes letting kids help grow their food encourages them to eat it. Not always, both my daughter and niece enjoyed planting, watering, and picking the tomatoes, just not “eating” them. Although, they’ll both eat spaghetti sauce. So sometimes combing a food, or like you say putting it in a smoothie, helps. My kids taste buds are all their own, but I enjoy finding ways to introduce my grandchildren to healthy foods.

    1. Nita, absolutely! We’ve had gardens and our kids do like to help (not so much the weeding) but they haven’t always liked eating what they reap. Fortunately, there are so many lessons that can be learned and taught to kids while gardening, isn’t there? Keep up the good work with the grandkids. Love it!

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