Food & Recipes

13 Tips For Parents Of Picky Eaters From Top Chefs And Nutritionists

This advice should make dinnertime much easier.

8. Give Your Food A Fun Name

That’s not just broccoli! It’s “dinosaur broccoli trees.”

Making healthy food seem fun can get your young children to be more interested in eating it, says Ruder.

Ruder, who is the author of the cookbook “Natural Baby Food,” has a 4-year-old daughter who she’s test-run these strategies on.

Ruder suggests fun names for food: Maybe that’s calling carrots “x-ray vision carrots” so your kids will be more excited about noshing on them, she says. “You can have them cut their food into fun shapes using a cookie cutter or serve fruits and veggies with colorful dipping sauces,” Ruder says. “Let your creativity run wild.” 

9. Implement A “Three-Bite” Rule

We’ve already suggested you may need to introduce a food over and over before children take a liking to it. But Delasantos found her children would sometimes embrace a food after the first few bites, and in one sitting.

“We found that often their first bite of a new food was rejected as awful, but by the third bite, it was not so bad or even yummy,” she says. If three bites in one meal is pushing your kids’ limits too much, you can try one bite of the food or dish at three different meals, she suggests.

10. Balance Flavors

Eboni Henry, who is from Chicago and a current contestant on “MasterChef,” says her four children are each picky eaters in their own way. Her go-to solution? Balance sweet and savory flavors.

“My 9-year-old thinks that he’s allergic to fish just because he doesn’t like the way it tastes,” she says. “So when I go to make it, I make sure I serve something really sweet and something really savory with it.” The complex flavor profile distracts from the fact that he’s eating fish.

kids eating photo
Getty Images | Adam Berry

11. Serve It In A Bento Box

You could be fancy and call it a “deconstructed dinner.” But if you’re having a hard time getting your kids to eat, try serving the meal to them Bento Box-style.

“Kids love bite-sized pieces, colorful foods and they like it all separate,” says Karen Firsel, owner of a healthy fast-casual restaurant called Jar Bar in Northbrook, Illinois. She suggests trying cubed chicken, sweet potato bites, hummus and whole grain crackers.

“Or, make it a project for them to keep them busy and creative: Let them build little sandwiches with crackers, slices of apple, slices of cheese and even sprinkles of seeds or nuts.”

12. Use “Green Sugar” In Smoothies

Smoothies are a great way to sneak more fruits and veggies into your children’s diets — so long as you aren’t loading them with sugary ingredients. To get this right, Rebecca Cafiero, a healthy lifestyle expert, recommends using a dehydrated greens mix to supercharge your smoothie.

“I have some parents who tell their kids it’s ‘green sugar’ and let them liberally use it,” she says. “It’s sweetened naturally with mangos.”

13. Keep In Mind: Even James Beard Award-Winning Pastry Chefs Can Have Picky Kids

Chicago-based pastry chef Gale Gand’s oldest child, Gio, was an adventurous eater. In fact, at age 2, he was asked by a fellow passenger on a plane about his favorite food and he responded: “Garlicky spinach.”

Gand, a cookbook author and winner of the 2001 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, says Gio aided her in cooking demonstrations as a young child and attended food festivals with her. She retells a story of him going off to camp at age 8 and confusing camp counselors as he deconstructed his sandwich, not knowing how to eat it because he was accustomed to dishes like veal meatloaf and sushi, Gand says.

Gand took credit for Gio’s adventurous eating: They gardened and harvested food together when Gio was young, and he joined her on grocery shopping trips. This tactile relationship with food makes it interesting, Gand says. “At 2 years old, he was sitting in the garden learning to grow vegetables,” she recalls.

Then, when Gio turned 8 years old, Gand had twins girls.

“I thought I was an expert at raising kids with a diverse palate,” she says.

Ella tends to an adventurous eater, and her twin sister, Ruby, is a picky eater who prefers a diet of white foods, like pasta, rice, chicken, mozzarella cheese and milk. It’s possibly Ruby is a “supertaster,” Gand says.

So, on any given night, Gand might prepare two different dinners.

The lesson here? Kids are unpredictable, and sometimes give even the best chefs around a run for their money!

“Once you have twins, you realize they come out pre-wired,” she says.

Written by Brittany Anas for Make It Better

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