10 Easy Ways to Make Meals Fun for Your Picky Eater

posted: 04/14/15
by: Jenni Grover
10 Easy Ways to Make Meals Fun for Your Picky Eater
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How to get your kid to eat.

My daughter, Lilia (2 1/2 years old), has always been such a good eater. But all of a sudden she has gotten picky about the weirdest things. For example, she did not like that some of her oats in her oatmeal had tiny brown stripes on them and refused to eat them. What?! Or that there were tiny flax seeds in her bread. She basically has decided that she does not like food with imperfections.

Toddlers are picky eaters. The best thing for parents to do is relax and continue to buy and prepare nutritious foods. Small children have small bellies (about the size of their hand), so serve up small portions and offer seconds if needed. I know this is a phase that my daughter will grow out of, but in the meantime we continue to struggle with (in her opinion) flawed foods. We have learned to get very creative with our planning, presentation, and consumption of foods at mealtime.

How to Make Meals Fun

1. Play With Your Food- There are many creative ways to play with food. Let your kids get their hands dirty and feel the textures of different foods. Some of it just may end up in their mouths.

2. Presentation, Presentation, Presentation- Some kids do not like their foods to touch. Some kids have strange color aversions. It is fine to follow their wishes to an extent. You can make their plates a work of art. Make silly faces on their plates with foods or make designs. Try alternating veggies, meats, and starches in small piles or making a big spiral of food.

3. Use Different Serving Dishes- I have used egg cartons, muffin tins, ice cube trays, and colorful pottery bowls to dish up food and make it more interesting. This allows busy kids to graze while playing. Grazing keeps your child's blood sugar up and their behavior in check. Just make sure to only allow this grazing to occur for about an hour due to the shelf life of the foods.

4. Alter the Composition of Food- Cut sandwiches with fun cookie cutters. Cut veggies and fruits in unusual ways like making carrot sticks instead of circles or melon balls instead of slices. Some kids will not eat large foods and need them to be cut into smaller pieces- just get creative with your cutting.

5. Make a Show- We often do a little dance or run around the table when our daughter eats a new food. You can clap or sing a song. Just be careful about offering big rewards or bribes for food. Not only do you not want to have to buy a present each time a piece of broccoli is eaten, you also want to make sure your kids do not make a connection between food and materialism.

6. Serve Foods With a Dip- It is no mystery that kids love to dip their foods. Serve breads, fruits, and veggies with fun dips like peanut butter, ranch, yogurt, hummus, guacamole, or salsa. Healthy dips add a nutritional boost to meals and snacks and it is amazing how much better kids eat when dipping is involved.

7. Reverse Psychology- Try daring your kids to eat their foods or admitting you do not think they can eat those peas all gone. This works especially well with pre-school age children since they love to do the opposite of what you ask.

8. Make Up Fun Names- Renaming foods is so fun. We like to use our daughter's name like Lilia Soup or Lilia Burritos. You can also get creative and rename beans "dinosaur eggs", bananas "wheels", broccoli "trees", or pancakes "flying saucers".

9. Cook With Your Kids- Cooking with your kids is not only fun and educational, but it will encourage them to try the foods they helped create. This is a great activity when you decide to try a new menu item out and it can encourage them to eat their 3-5 servings of veggies per day. Remember for kids under age 5, a serving is one tablespoon per age. Therefore, a three year old needs 3 tablespoons of veggies 3-5 times per day.

10. Play With Color- You can always spruce up white foods like potatoes or pasta with a little food coloring. I prefer using natural food colorings from a health food store or you can use foods like berries, tumeric, or red onion to make color. Let your child pick and add the color to the food. Also try topping yogurt or cereal with colorful berries or talk about how veggies are the colors of the rainbow.

Many of these fun activities have worked well with my daughter and when one looses its charm we try another. When Lilia decides she loves strawberries one day and hates them the next, I remind myself to remain calm and move on.