Remember when you were five and thought pizza was disgusting (because, let’s face it, it really can look unappetizing if you don’t know what it is)? Kids are naturally picky eaters because they’re wary of things that look strange, like that time your cousin thought it would be funny to give your toddler a lemon. Plus, their taste buds simply aren’t developed. Most young kids who are given a sip of your beer don’t exactly love it, and now you can’t imagine thinking it tastes anything but delicious.
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Luckily, there are a few tricks to make healthy foods irresistible for kids. You can, of course, “hide” healthy foods in favorite treats while masking their flavor, but that’s a Band-Aid fix. The real goal is to get your kids to enjoy and want those healthy foods on their own. Start by understanding your child’s appetite and not forcing them to eat. They’ll eat when they’re hungry and you don’t want them to think of mealtime as a frustrating or anxiety-riddled period.
1. Complement, don’t hide
Would you want to eat plain, raw broccoli with no seasoning? You can include a favorite dip or sauce with foods your kids shy away from, and try prepping them in a different way (steamed? Broiled?) to help get them into the texture. Also, remember that there’s really no such thing as “breakfast foods” or a time of day when certain healthy foods are acceptable. Fun up your meals, be flexible yourself and kids are more likely to respond.
2. Put them in charge
There are probably a number of healthy foods that you haven’t tried either. Humans are creatures of habit, but if you let your kids be in charge of what’s on their plate (within reason), they’re more likely to eat up. For example, letting them choose one new item from the produce section they’ve never tried before, and/or encouraging them to find the weirdest looking thing, makes eating new things a game.
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3. Never reward with food
It can be tempting to tell your kids that if they eat a certain amount of a new food, they’ll get rewarded with a favorite dessert. Food of any sort should not be used as bribery as that sets up a bad relationship with food from the start. Instead, practice patience, routines and be a good eating role model yourself. Food isn’t a punishment or reward, even though it can make life easier in the short-term.
4. Pour some sugar on it
Well, don’t pour it, but a little bit of sugar (whether it’s raw brown sugar or even Truvia) can suddenly make a bland food amazing. Is it worth a pinch of sweetness to help your kids fall in love with carrots? Most parents would say yes. Sugar in moderation is okay and shouldn’t be treated as the enemy. There are probably other avenues where cutting out sugar is a good idea, but a pinch here and there isn’t going to end the world.
Picky eaters outgrow it, but it can be trying on parents. This is one thing that truly is a phase, so don’t let it discourage you.
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