7 Tips for pleasing picky palates

Chicken: check. Potatoes: check. Leafy greens: check. One meal for the whole family sounds like an appetizing idea, but what’s a parent to do a child would rather embark on an indefinite hunger strike than eat what’s being served for dinner?

“This is not a restaurant.”

“You eat what’s in front of you or you don’t eat at all.”

I can still hear those exact phrases my parents sternly uttered when I was a young child and you know what, those words carried weight. If we refused to eat our dinner, we went without food for the rest of the night.

I’ve tried the tough love tactic of allowing my children to go to bed hungry in the hopes they might quickly understand our kitchen is not a full-service restaurant. But I simply couldn’t bear the thought of depriving my little ones food. I completely caved.

Cooking for the picky eater

My two children may share the same DNA, but there’s zero resemblance when it comes to their food preferences. My five year-old eats just about everything, from pizza to pickles, halibut to hummus. He’s a growing boy to say the least. My daughter, who has fully embraced all the joys toddlerhood has to offer, is extremely selective. She has an affinity for starches, breads and cereals. In fact, we’ve dubbed her the ‘carb queen.’ While she’s slowly becoming a little more adventurous with foods, she’s still difficult to please at the kitchen table. There have been many evenings where her protesting has prompted me to reach for the cupboard, offering up a peanut butter sandwich instead of the pot roast sitting on the table. But I realized I wasn’t doing her any favours long-term.

Recipe for success

Think you can’t win the perpetual meal time power struggle? Here are some appetizing ways to get your fussy eater to venture into uncharted territory:

7 tips for picky palate

  1. Pare down portion size

Little mouths don’t typically swallow up adult portions, so ease up on the amount of food you put on your child’s plate. A toddler only needs about an ounce of meat per serving; a half-cup of cooked pasta is plenty for your three year-old. So, don’t overwhelm him with a heaping plate. Smaller portions also allow for children to ask for more if they finish.

2. One more bite..

New parents may not welcome unwanted advice but my stepmother, who has helped raise six children with my father, served up an idea I’ve put into practice at the kitchen table. Asking your child to match the number of bites of food to her age is pretty effective. If my two year-old isn’t impressed with her meal (which is still quite commonplace,) we encourage her to eat two more bites of the food she doesn’t like. It adds an element of fun to our meal and she’s always quite proud of herself for reluctantly chewing it up.

3. Let them plan

Children love being part of the food prep process so let them get their hands dirty. Allowing them to decide what’s on tonight’s menu means they’ll take ownership of the meal and in turn, ups the chance they’ll lick their plates clean.

4. Hide the spinach

Veggies can be a hard sell for parents, so why not hide a little cauliflower in pasta sauce, or spinach in pancakes? I can’t recall how many times I’ve served ‘fun green pancakes’ with hidden spinach for breakfast.

5. Cut the snacks

Healthy snacks are an important part of your child’s daily food intake; offering snacks and meals around the same time every day will help curb those mini-mouthed cravings. Giving water instead of milk or juice between meals can also help make room for dinnertime.

6. Don’t run a restaurant

Preparing separate meals for your child can actually promote picky eating. Besides, what’s your next move when your toddler decides she no longer enjoys peanut butter sandwiches every night? Putting in the extra effort now will likely blend into a recipe for success.

7. Keep trying

Don’t. Give. Up. Even if your child constantly turns his nose up at nearly everything you serve him, keep offering healthy choices. The food will become more familiar, and in turn, a preferred choice in the future. Encouraging him to stay seated at the table during meals isn’t only a positive lesson in table etiquette, it also creates special family bonding time.

Whipping together healthy meals can be stressful even without the worry your anti-foodie may not be getting a balanced diet. Health Canada posts its Food Guide online, which includes suggested portion sizes and sample menus for children 12 and under. Bon appetit!

Ensuring the health of your children is of paramount importance, this extends into the realm of finances and saving as well. Knowledge First Financial is Canada’s leading group RESP provider and is proud to have aided over 440,000 students in pursuing post-secondary education. Visit their website for more information!