When you arrive at home after a long, tiring day at work, the last thing you would want to do is wage war over broccoli at the dinner table. To keep you and your kid out of that dreaded “eat your vegetable” fight, you find yourself easily end up falling into the trap of ordering pizza or making Mac-n-Cheese instead. The good news is that getting your little one to learn to eat nutritious meal doesn’t have to be a constant battle all the time. Here’s how:
- Make food fun. One great way to get a few bites of healthy greens down the hatch is by relating nutritious food to things your child already enjoys, and then turning it into a game. Kids love to play make believe and broccoli can indeed be a bit intimidating to someone who is hoping for a pizza. But if he is a hungry dinosaur who needs to a few miniature trees to get away from a tyrannosaurus rex, those florets are a lot more fun all of a sudden.
- Involve your kids. Since children tend to become more invested in a meal if they lend a hand during preparation, try taking your little one with you to the grocery store or farmer’s market and let them pick one or two veggies to cook for dinner. This way, you make them more excited to eat it later. Aside from that, you can also let your kid snap beans, clean the carrots, mix the dressing, or set the table. Involvement will give them a sense of pride and can make them a lot more enthusiastic and definitely obliging at meal time.
- Implement the “one bite rule”. Many parents could affirm their success with the “one bite rule” which is when they require their child to try at least one solid mouthful of a rejected food once served. Studies have consistently shown that children who have initially casted off a food item have to be exposed to it at least 8 to 10 times for it to be eventually accepted. After adequate exposures, your child will become more familiar with it and begin to rate it more favorably.
- Avoid forcing them to finish. One very common misconception among parents though, is that it’s possible for their child’s behavior to be changed if he is forced to eat the food he doesn’t like. Unfortunately, fighting and punishment rarely works as it only creates negative meal experience. Once your little one learns to associate food with bad feelings, the less likely you will get the desired effect. In most cases, it will only increase his picky eating tendencies. Require one bite, but try your best to not start a fight.
- Reward good behavior. Also, make an effort to create positive food experiences as this will help reduce their tendencies to be picky. Studies have found that rewarding your kid for trying even just one bite of a rejected food item with things they like such as stickers can already increase the odds of them trying the food. Rewards will help them rate the food more positively in the future.
- Set an example. Perhaps the best predictor of a kid’s eating behavior is his parents’ eating patterns. If healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are relegated to an afterthought at home, then it’s tough to expect for your kid to take them. Children eat what they know, and will almost never ask for a special meal if they know well it is not an option to begin with.
Understand that some kids will be obviously become more difficult than others, and will certainly require more of your effort and patience. However, remember that the habits they develop at a young age will remain with them long into adulthood. For your sake and theirs, it is absolutely worth solving picky eating problems as soon as you possibly can. Continue to set a good example, create fun and positive experiences around food, allow them to help around the kitchen, enforce the one bite rule and do everything that you can to keep exposing them (in a pleasant way) to the nutrient-packed foods they tend to reject. You will see how your persistence will pay off later on.