First, you have to stop using the word picky. Giving kids that label will set the expectation that they should refuse most new foods. Try replacing “picky” with more descriptive phrases, such as “Chloe takes a while to decide that she likes something,” or “Zachary likes his food prepared a certain way.”
Many parents think that kids are not eating enough vegetables, yet it is very rare for a parent to be concerned that kids are not eating enough pizza or macaroni and cheese! To get kids to eat vegetables, parents often try bribing, threatening, bargaining, or punishing. These approaches can result in a tiresome power struggle that often leaves a child feeling like vegetables are the enemy. The key is to help kids change their perspective and to think positively of vegetables.
Although changing someone’s perspective is not a quick or easy thing to do, investing the time to do this now will help relieve some of the pressure parents feel at the dinner table. This change will also help to set your child up for a lifetime of healthy (or at least healthier!) eating.
To help kids shift their perspective on healthy foods, try some of the following activities:
1. Encourage your children to help plant or pick vegetables and fruits. Seeing where food comes from provides a sense of pride and appreciation. Even having just a tiny herb garden in your backyard can help instill that sense of pride and appreciation. No time or space for a garden? Visit the farmers market. Talk to your kids about where the food comes from. Let them carefully select which peppers or bananas to purchase.
2. Let your child decide how to season their foods. Experiment with different spices or toppings. Giving kids control over this small aspect will help them take ownership for their foods.
3. Instead of asking whether or not they like it, encourage your children to say what they like and don’t like about it. For example, it was crunchy, it was bitter, it was mushy. Ask them to describe the flavor of the new food in as much detail as they can. Then have them rate the food on a scale of 1 to 10 to describe how much they liked it.
4. Choose a “vegetable of the week” by asking your child which vegetable they would like to feature that week. Each day do something related to that vegetable. For example, one day you could research some of the health benefits of that food. The next day create a collage or other form of artwork showing the unique features of the vegetables. Another day might involve searching for the most delicious recipes involving that vegetable. At the end of the week it is finally time to eat and enjoy that vegetable!
These are just a few ideas to get your kids thinking differently about vegetables. Feel free to get creative and come up with a few of your own ideas!