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Tricks To Encourage Your Picky Eaters To Make Good Choices

I’ve always envied those parents whose children eat everything put in front of them - and no matter what the offering is, eat it happily and ravenously. Even today, as a parent of older kids, I have a couple of them who like a very plain menu. And that goes for their dad as well, for that matter.

Almost every single parent has experienced a clash of tastes at the dining table at one time or another. For some of us, the clashes are way more often than we would like - every meal, to be completely honest. You lovingly prepare a delicious meal for your child, only to be met with a "No! I don't want to eat that!" response. 

And you know that your child will continue to wage a food fight, and you can bet that you'll lose your patience in no time. No matter how old your child is, there may be meal time skirmishes that you'll have to deal with. And we all know the result. Sometimes you'll stand your ground and refuse to let your child win the confrontation, and other times you'll just give up and give in to their demands. But there are a few tricks to help prevent the battles from happening at all.

Now, let me set it straight here. I will be the first to admit that I am far from an expert in the food field. But I do know how the dinner table can be the setting for a family feud night after night. I have a child who was diagnosed with an extreme sensitivity to tastes and sensations, so we had a battle every time food was even brought in to the picture. Meal time was a struggle for years, and still isn’t an enjoyable time for my child, who is now a teen. Eat to live, not live to eat, if you know what I mean.

If you are trying to find a better harmony at the dinner table, it may be helpful to consider the ways that food is presented to your growing family. Sometimes, with just a few minor changes in the daily food routine, you can create an atmosphere and a meal that is more appealing to your children. So before your dinner table becomes a constant battlefield, we’d like to suggest 7 ways to expand your family’s dining repertoire.

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7 Encourage Exploration

Sometimes the reason that our kids don't want to eat a certain food is because they haven't had it before, and its foreign appearance is just not that appetizing. You can slowly get your child to become more comfortable with new foods by encouraging them to explore with their senses. Ask them to touch the food, smell the food and just check it out. 

Once it becomes more familiar, your child might feel better about trying it. It's also a good idea to encourage your child to just take a little taste of new foods. Suggest that she take "just one bite" to see if she likes it. If she doesn't, don't force it. Sometimes this can backfire and create a negative association with that certain food.

You also want to make sure you are offering your child a variety of foods, especially in the toddler years. Give them one food that you know they like, and offer them several more options in small portions. The Ask Dr. Sears website suggests creating a "nibble tray," which is essentially a smorgasbord of finger foods that children can explore. Some suggested foods to include are:

●apple moons (thinly sliced)

●avocado boats (a quarter of an avocado)

●banana wheels

●broccoli trees (steamed broccoli florets)

●carrot swords (cooked and thinly sliced)

●cheese building blocks

●egg canoes (hard- boiled egg wedges)

●little O’s (o-shaped cereal)

Offering these foods to your child does not guarantee that they will eat them or like them. But giving them the freedom to discover the foods on their own puts less pressure on them. Some experts say it can take up to 15 times of offering your child a new food before they will actually eat it. The offering of the "nibble tray" is something that you can try multiple times with several enticing food options. 

If the tray is not a hit, try to serve similar foods together. If your child likes cantaloupe, try mixing in some honeydew chunks. If she likes raspberries, throw some blackberries in her bowl too. Sometimes this trick works, and sometimes it doesn't. Hey, just give it a shot - giving your child the option without putting pressure on her will up your chances that she'll try something new.

6 Offer Dips and Toppings

While it's important that your children make the effort to taste new foods, sometimes offering a tastier way to give it a whirl is the trick to try. Presenting dips or toppings with new foods is a fun and colorful way to do this. Try to keep the dips as healthy as possible, and keep in mind that it might take a little time time before your child will eat the new fave foods without the dips or toppings. 

Toddlers in particular love yummy toppings such as yogurt, melted cheese, peanut butter and tomato sauce. Your picky eater might be more willing to partake of foods that they are not big fans of if they are topped with something they like.

When it comes to dipping options, Ask Dr. Sears suggests these favorites:

●cottage cheese or tofu dip - try cottage cheese topped with a little cinnamon, served with applesauce

●cream cheese

●fruit juice-sweetened preserves

●guacamole

●peanut butter, thinly spread

●pureed fruits or vegetables - if you are having a tough time getting the veggies into your family’s meals, it’s okay to sneak them in until your wee one’s take them more willingly

●Greek yogurt, plain or sweetened with juice concentrate

Even many adults enjoy their dining experience more when the foods served are topped with, or dipped into a yummy condiment. So it only makes sense that children also enjoy tantalizing their taste buds with colorful, savory dips. Of course, if you have a child like mine, who has problems with strong flavors, you may want to have a go at a blander, but delicious none the less, dip offering.

5 Practice Shapes and Colors

All children are drawn to fun shapes and bright colors, whether at meal time or at play. They also love surrounding themselves with their favorite cartoon characters and toys, and have fun showing their artistic side while drawing and coloring. What toddler doesn’t love to show off his knowledge of colors and shapes? Cutting fave foods into shapes with cookie cutters - and artfully sneaking in a new item in and there - will make breakfast, lunch or snack more fun and exciting.

One tried and true suggestion from the What to Expect website is to colorfully decorate the top of your child's lunch with a zany vegetable face, (cucumber eyes, a cherry tomato nose, red-pepper mouth, and shredded yellow squash for hair). Most little ones will have a hard time resisting such a silly food concoction.

Naming the food shapes can make eating foreign foods more of a game also. Carrots can be a snowman’s nose, and of course, everyone knows that broccoli florets are none other than little green trees, perfect for popping in the mouth, one by one.

While cookie cutters are an easy tool to use, simply cutting colorful food into fun shapes, or adding tasty condiments to create funny faces is an easy way to go all out to present a meal that will be sure to be a hit.

If this little trick doesn’t work right off the top, right away, you can always try it again at a different time - keeping in mind that the mix of foods your child loves, along with new foods, encourages sampling.

4 Let Your Kids Help

Involve your children in the entire food process. Make food a family affair from start to finish. Ask for assistance in choosing the weekly menu, have your munchkins accompany you grocery shopping, and let them prepare their own creations. 

Teach your kids the trick of the trade by letting your picky eater be involved in the decisions and preparation when it comes to the family table. Give them options: strawberries, bananas or grapes? Regular cream cheese with whole wheat bagels or flavored with raisin toast?

What shape of pasta do you want for supper and what color sauce would you prefer? If they have some ownership in the food buying process, they will be more inclined to eat the foods that they helped choose.

Once you have all of those delicious ingredients in your pantry, let your children help you in the kitchen. Give them age appropriate tasks and encourage them to be "big boy" or "big girl" helpers. You can ask them to help wash fruits and vegetables, or pour ingredients into a pot, or stir up a mixture in a bowl. Sure, your kitchen may be a bit messier than you are used to, but the results will be worth the extra clean up.

You can purchase plastic mixing spoons, measuring cups and cute, character aprons to make kitchen time a blast for wee ones. Give your kids their own special drawer in the kitchen where they can keep their cooking supplies. If your child feels more like a grown up who knows how to prepare a meal for the family, maybe they'll eat more like one too!

3 Purchase Healthy Foods

It’s quite obvious, but one of the easiest ways to prevent your child from preferring unhealthy choices is to keep those less nutritious foods out of sight and out of mind. If the chips and cookies aren’t around, your kids can’t eat them. When they get hungry, they’ll start munching on healthy snacks instead.

For certain, we know this is a trick we can all benefit from. No doubt about it, you really want to buy those chocolate chip cookies - my favorite kind, hands down - but is it worth the argument you may face when your child wants a cookie instead of an apple for a snack? Keep cookies and chips out of your pantry so temptation for your kids, and you as well, will not be so great.

If your child knows that his options are to eat a healthy snack, or to not eat a snack at all, he is going to choose a healthy snack. Keep wholesome food options within your child's reach, so that they know you trust them to choose their snacks wisely, and are allowing them some freedom of choice. You can let your kids know that the veggie tray, prepared with washed cut up vegetables is available to them whenever they are hungry. Kids will love the freedom to go to the fridge for a nibble at will.

If they notice that you have faith in their ability to make good decisions about food, they will continue to make good decisions. Definitely there will be a sense of pride felt by your kids. Once they have reached a point where they aren't resisting those fruits and veggies, and they demonstrate that they are not picky with their meals, you can start offering them the occasional sweets such as cookies.

The best option for cookies and other treats are to stick to homemade options created by you and your children using fresh, healthy ingredients.I think if our little ones feel they have some say in their menu choices, and can show you that they can exhibit self-control, they won't abuse their power when it comes to eating.

2 Invite Friends for Dinner

Even at a very young age,peer pressure rears its ugly head, sometimes to our benefit. If you know that your child's best buddies are healthy eaters, arrange a play date, and let them encourage one another at meal time. It’s a known fact that the food always looks better on your friend’s plate - especially if it is your good friend. This is a way to promote healthy eating, and can also give your wee one a lesson in sharing.

If your little dinner guest offers your child a bite of something they don't like, they might eat it anyway, so they don't upset their friend. Chances are, they will discover that they actually do like that food. It's a bit manipulative, but sometimes you must have a trick or two up your sleeve in order to form healthy habits in your children.

I think the friendly pressure that is placed on your child when they participate in a meal at a friend’s house can work wonders, too. Let the other mom in on the situation - she will appreciate being aware of your child’s adversity to trying new foods, and while she most likely won’t bombard your little pumpkin with a plate of unfamiliar cuisine, the tactic of eating at another person’s house can give your young one a little push in the direction of branching out and trying new fare.

Parental peer pressure, or relating to a beloved super hero is another tactic to try. Our children love to model our behavior, so if we eat the foods that our children won't, and they see how much we enjoy them, they might want to try for themselves.

"Mmmm. This is so good! Mommy loves carrots. And they help keep your vision strong - just like Spider-Man. Would you like a bite?"

Knowing your foods facts is important, too. Be aware of the healthiest choices and you will be well on your way to offering your picky eater the best options out there.

1 Dessert and Other Tricks

Many experts feel that when you try to bribe your child with a post-meal treat, it confirms the notion that the dessert is the preferable food, and the other foods are just a means to an end. Others have the opinion that it is not a problem to reward a child who has consumed a healthy meal with a special sweet. As always, the decisions we make for our kids are our own - as they should be.

On the other hand, we need to teach our children that healthy foods are just as desirable and delicious as those scrumptious sweets. Verbal encouragement very often works just as well as the promise of dessert; express to your child how proud of him you are when he eats a good meal. Praise your child for good eating habits.

Early on in my parenting days I had to learn to respect the appetite of my child who has the sensory disorder; even today I need to understand that a healthy protein drink is so much more palatable, and for a fact, the doctor has given us the A - okay in that regard. Our pediatrician helped me to realise that as long as my child receives the necessary nutrition, the form it comes in is really not an issue. 

I have had to accept the fact that I will not always be there to monitor proper food intake and if the healthiest choices for my child are not in the mode that I prefer, that is completely fine. Do your best, set some good examples, and offer the best food options you can.

In some cases, the morning meal is the best time to get a good dose of nutrition into your child. Kids are often famished in the morning, not to mention the fact that they are fresh and alert, and quite possibly open to new things.

Another trick I have used to keep my kids focused on the task at hand is to avoid distractions such as TV or other electronics. Talking about our day while at the table makes for a very enjoyable meal, too. Telling funny stories and anecdotes of the days happenings brings the family closer together and gives a special atmosphere to dinner time.

Feast upon the joys of family time. Remember that the food battles will not go on forever, we promise.

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