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Seven Stellar Ways To Sneak Nutrition Into Picky Eaters

Little asian girl with expression of disgust against broccoliIf I had a dollar for every parent who emailed me on City Kids Nutrition (my Facebook page) that their child was a great eater as an infant and became picky as a toddler, I could retire in Bali. A child’s independence emerges during the toddler years, and food preference is no exception.

Following these age-appropriate tips will prevent stressful food fights and cultivate a peaceful, functional mealtime environment. Here are SEVEN stellar ways to win the food war!

1. Monkey see, monkey do

The NUMBER one thing you can do to get your children to eat what you want them to eat is to EAT it YOURSELF.

2. Set specific times for snacks

If a child eats a snack too close to a meal, you will lose before you’ve even begun. Space snacks at least 1.5 hours from any meal.

3. VARIETY is key

Be sure to rotate and introduce new foods. It can take a child 10-15 exposures of a new food to take that first morsel, so don’t give up! Do not let them hear you say “she doesn’t like/eat broccoli,” instead say, “she’s still trying it out,” or “it’s not her thing today but maybe another day.”

4. Chew and swallow

Cutting foods into age-appropriate bite-size pieces is a must. Offer your kids bites about the square width of their thumb nails. Change the shape of food to keep it exciting! Try squares, sticks, or circles. And then let them have time to chew.

5. Get your kiddos involved in menu planning and make it fun!

You’re competing with Elsa’s fruit snacks for goodness sakes. While food shopping play games; give each child a color and have them choose a fruit and vegetable. Play “I Spy” and let them control which fruit and veggies make it into the cart each week.

6. What’s in a name?

A lot. Words can dramatically change a child’s perception. Come up with a funny name for a simple food; for instance, eat “broccoli trees” rather than plain “broccoli.” Remember the old favorite – ants on a log? It was popular for a reason!

7. Get your kids involved in the cooking

In some preschool classrooms children learn to pour, mix, and cut their own food. Why shouldn’t they? Just be sure to supervise.

Children tend to fall short in calcium, (dairy, broccoli, spinach) magnesium, (dark leafy greens, nuts/seeds, avocado) potassium, (sweet potatoes, tomato sauce, beans) fiber, (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and Vitamin E (tofu, spinach, nuts/seeds).

Here are some tips on how to sneak in extra nutrition:

  • Make fruit smoothies with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt
  • Bake homemade fries, veggie chips (kale, beets, sweet potatoes) in the oven with sea salt and olive oil
  • Purée butternut squash into macaroni and cheese
  • Put black beans in brownies and mix cauliflower into mashed potatoes and pizza crust
  • Change white flour, pasta, and bread products to whole wheat
  • Make a protein breakfast ahead of time – kids can do “egg muffins” with cut up veggies, shredded cheese and eggs; let the kids put the ingredients into little cupcake cups
  • Purée or finely chop veggies (like spinach) into meatballs
  • Apple slices and trail mix (nuts, seeds, and raisins – skip the M&M version)
  • Keep cut up veggies (carrots, cucumbers, peppers) in the fridge for an easily accessible and healthy snackFor more tips and tricks, please visit City Kids Nutrition on Facebook.

Written by: Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, MS, RD, CDN, CDE

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About the Author

Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, MS, RD, CDN, CDE
Registered Dietitian & Diabetes Educator
Dietitian @ Institute for Reconstructive Plastic Surgery

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