Wouldn’t it be fantastic if your kids ate exactly what you gave them, without argument? It would make dinnertime a whole different experience, right?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the complete path to dinnertime nirvana to share with you. What I do have are a few strategies I use to hopefully help my family (and yours) move further along that path. They don’t always work – there are so many factors that influence how a child eats at any given meal – but sometimes they do.
In the world of sharing food photos on social media, it can be very easy to assume that “everyone else is doing it better”, or that “no-one else’s kids are as fussy as mine”. It’s not true. My kids are as fussy as anyone else’s and dinnertime can sometimes feel like an endurance race (without the shiny medal at the end).
My 6 year old son is quite a picky eater and I sometimes tear my hair out at the limited range of foods he likes, and at his stubborn refusal to try some things. My 4 year old daughter is less picky, and will often try things, but then will follow her brother’s lead and reject it. She does, however, like salads, green smoothies and kale chips, so it’s not all bad! The baby of course is still at that age where she eats just about anything you give her, so her fussy years are still ahead of us!
Here are some strategies I use to get us through meal times without too many tears:
Strategy 1: Supplement with Sides
My son in particular is not a fan of vegetables. His veggie repertoire consists basically of white potato, raw carrot and cucumber. He also loves avocado. Which is why, at most of our dinners, there is a plate on the table that looks like this:
That way, if he can’t be convinced to eat the veggies contained in the rest of the meal, I know he is at least getting something!
Strategy 2: Deconstruct
Like a lot of kids, mine are not great fans of dishes where the foods are all mixed together. In that case, I serve the elements of the dish separately. So a stir fry that looks like this for us:
Will look like this for the kids, with the meat taken out before sauces are added, and the veggies served raw:
Strategy 3: Self Serve
Kids love autonomy. My son in particular does not like foods being dished up onto his plate – he much prefers the sense of control it gives him to serve himself. Which is why a lot of my family food photos look like this:
This family style of eating and serving yourself works much better for my kids. Although it gives them the illusion of a lot of freedom, I do often make rules about what they have to choose: e.g. eat least one food of each colour, or each type, etc
Strategy 4: Modify
I don’t want to be a short order cook. It’s important to me that we eat together as a family and that we all eat the same meal. BUT there are times when I choose my battles. I know that when I cook an egg-based dish such as frittata or fritters, that my kids will not eat it, no matter how much I cajole. So I reserve a couple of eggs, and serve the kids fried eggs with toast fingers for dipping, and some items from the salad. That way, they still get the goodness of the eggs without the fight, and I don’t feel like I’m cooking a completely different meal.
Strategy 5 : Keep Offering
I remember when my son was a toddler and my mum was visiting. I dished up some bits of salad onto his highchair tray at dinner time. My mum said “Oh, is he eating salad now!?” “No”, I answered, “But if I don’t give it to him, he never will.”
We talk to the kids about how important it is to keep trying foods – how their taste buds grow and change over time. We tell them about how we’ve experienced it ourselves – I didn’t eat avocado, olives or mushrooms until my twenties. We ask them to try foods – to smell, lick or nibble them. We talk about their characteristics – colour, shape, texture. We’ve had some great discussions about sugar snap and snow peas in the past! All of this helps to break down the fear of new foods – they get so caught up in finding words to describe them, they forget they’re actually eating them!
My basic strategy is this: I cook the foods I would like my kids to eat, the food that my husband and I enjoy eating, so that we can be good role models for them. I make sure that there is plenty of opportunity to try these foods and I know that eventually they will come around to eating and enjoying them too. I just know it’s going to be a great test of patience in the meantime….
What works for your family?