When DH and I first started dating, my stepson, J, was eight and a SUPER picky eater. I’ll admit that, at the time, I (a) had little experience with kids in general, let alone one who saw me as the person who “stole his dad” and (b) was still determined not to have any kids of my own. Regardless, it took about two weekend visits with J to realize he refused to eat – or drink – almost anything I would consider healthy for a growing boy. And despite my hesitation about my role in his life, J’s eating habits and attitude toward nutrition bothered me – a lot.
The first rule at our dinner table has always been “try two bites” – some are tinier than others, but more often than not one bite leads to several rather than just one more. The second rule, which I never made secret, is “you can know what you’re eating, or I can hide it.” Meaning, you can tell me you hate the cauliflower we got at the farmers market and will never eat it, but I WILL find a way to incorporate it into a meal. It took some time, but our battle over food ended up bringing J and I closer. Over the past several years J has discovered he likes all kinds of foods – including vegetables! – that his eight-year-old self would never have considered edible. I take every small taste as a tiny victory, acknowledging that he has totally different rules (i.e., apparently none) about what goes into his body once he’s home with his mom. And I’m proud to report that, in recent months, he’s even starting choosing water over soda as his beverage of choice!
That said, there are times when getting good food into J, and now T, is still a challenge. Unlike J, T is less hesitant about trying new things, but also less likely to take more than the two required bites. We never force him to eat – when he says “finished,” he’s finished. That makes every bite he does take even more important. Here is a list of five ways I’ve found to get a kid of any age to eat almost anything:
1. Blend it. My mom got me a Baby Bullet when T was nearly one. At the time I thought I would only use it for a few more months before he outgrew its need. Wrong. I still pull out BB a couple of times a week. When either of the boys won’t eat, or when we need a quick “meal” as we head out the door, I pull it out and blend up a smoothie. Spinach, avocado, yogurt, fruit, wheat germ, the list is endless. Depending on the ingredients, sometimes I sweeten with honey, fruit juice, or agave nectar. I also use it to blend up leftover veggies for the freezer for later.
2. Freeze it. I found these super cute Monster Pop things on clearance at TJ Maxx last year. They freeze in no time, stand upright on their “feet” (helpful in the freezer since they didn’t come with a tray), are easy to clean and simple for a toddler to push up. My favorite thing to do with these is to blend Greek yogurt with a bit of fruit and freeze.
3. Pack it. My mom is my biggest ally in my quest to feed my kids healthy, locally sourced food. She found a sweet bento-type lunchbox somewhere and sent it to T. Not sure why it works, but that kid will eat pretty much anything I can back into it’s tiny little squares. Small Potatoes also has some cute bento ideas.
4. Hide it. I have tons of cookbooks, but one of my favorites for kids is the Deceptively Delicious book written by Jessica Seinfeld. She has all kinds of ideas for using fruit and vegetable purees in everyday dishes from scrambled eggs to pancakes to pasta. As I noted above, I do use my BB to blend up leftovers, but trips to the farmers market usually mean one or two veggies purchased solely to blend/chop/freeze for later.
5. Cook it. In the past year J has started to show an interest in cooking, and I’ve showed him how to make some simple, healthy meals. T has been in the kitchen with me since before he was old enough to sit up on his own, and is often on the stool next me adding veggies or stirring the pot. Both boys also join us on trips to the farmers market and are encouraged to ask the farmers/vendors questions about how to prepare something or how it’s grown or raised, and also to pick out something they want to eat that week. There are tons of articles about how kids are more likely to eat something they helped cook, and we have definitely found this to be true in our home.
What do you do to get picky eaters (adult or child) to eat?
Wishing you many healthy, peaceful meals!