Little kids have a very strong sense of taste and smell, which can sometimes lead to them rejecting strong flavors, and most likely... their dislike of healthy food options.
Sometimes kids may not like a certain texture, a certain look, smell or combination of foods.
Getting kids to eat healthily can sometimes be really challenging, and regardless of how great of an eater your kid was as a baby... suddenly they can become the pickiest toddler. Below you will find five proven strategies to get your little ones to eat healthier food options:
Getting our picky eaters to eat can be really stressful. And while the general advice to have your kids cook with you, have them go to the grocery store with you and to keep introducing foods regardless of being rejected are... well... cute... if you have a truly picky eater at home, you are probably looking for a real solution here.
Take a deep breath, and let's dive in:
First off, let's go over the general dietary guidelines provided by the American Association of Pediatrics:
- Select a mix of foods from the five food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat dairy, and quality protein sources, including lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds and eggs).
- Offer a variety of food experiences.
- Avoid highly processed foods.
- Use small amounts of sugar, salt, fats and oils with highly nutritious foods to enhance enjoyment and consumption.
- Offer appropriate portions.
One piece of advice our pediatrician shared with us is to think of your picky eater's nutrition in weekly terms, rather than daily. So let's say your little one didn't eat any vegetables on Monday. But she tried a piece of broccoli on Tuesday and you manage to sneak in a smoothie on Friday. That is completely ok.
1. Sneak in the healthy stuff
One of our favorite strategies to get picky toddlers to eat healthier choices is to hide the nutritious ingredients and sneak them into their favorite foods and flavors.
Jessica Seinfeld has written two ingenious books with lots of recipes to incorporate veggies into your kids' foods. This tend to work best for the younger set, but as your kids grow older, you can start to openly make these recipes for them, even having them help you cook them. (Link on each image will take you to Amazon - non-affiliate links)
2. Blend it
Smoothies are a great option to get your little ones to eat more vegetables, fiber, and protein.
Our advice is to keep them as simple as possible and to use fruits to conceal the flavor of vegetables. Even if you end up adding more fruits than vegetables, the important thing here is that your child is at least eating a little bit of a good thing... vs none at all. Celebrate your little victories and don't focus too much on making smoothies that may be a bit too healthy for your picky eater's extravagant taste.
We love adding protein powder to our kids' smoothies for an extra boost of nutrients. Our favorites are:
Vega Protein (this one isn't specifically made for children, but the taste is pretty good, so it is worth trying)
Start with a liquid base (it can be milk, plant-based-milk or water), add a fruit (bananas do a really good job, or frozen berries), a protein powder and a little bit of a vegetable: half a zucchini, a few heads of broccoli, a small bunch of spinach - it is best to try to start small first. We have found that frozen vegetables somehow taste a bit better in smoothies.
3. Simplify your kids' meals
Some picky eaters sometimes reject a meal simply because they don't like a combination of foods... but they would be completely ok with each ingredient on its own. For example, maybe a sandwich gets rejected, but each individual item (bread, turkey, cheese) is completely fine.
Sometimes kids will only eat veggies if we hide them, but some picky eaters are better off presented with a few small heads of broccoli, rather than chopping it finely and adding it to their favorite mac n cheese. It is definitely worth trying if this is your case.
4. Make it cute
For some picky eaters, the look and feel of their food can make or break a meal for them. To give this technique a try, head over to amazon and find really cute food cutters that can transform your cucumbers into flowers, or a piece of carrot into a character from their favorite movie. There's tons of inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest from moms that are way more creative than we are - look for the hashtags #cutefoodsforkids, #kidseat and #kidslunchideas.
Depending on the severity of the case, you may want to talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about supplementing your kids' meals with a multivitamin or similar supplement.
Read your labels and try to avoid synthetic food coloring and extra ingredients and sugar (although fair warning, some of the "cleanest" may not taste too great and may get rejected...).
On a final note, try not to stress too much about it - know that this phase too shall pass... and while it may take a few years for your kids to eat healthily, the fact that you are doing your research and trying to improve their diet is a great step. You're doing great!