Little kids can be picky eaters. That’s not breaking news. Every parent has experienced those moments when their child looks at his or her dinner plate and is simply not interested in the evening’s offering. That’s a frustrating experience to be sure, for both the parent and the child.
The picky eater problem doesn’t just affect how many different things your child eats — nine times out of 10, it also affects how healthful your child’s diet is as these kids often reject their vegetables, fruits and whole grains for more addictive processed foods that are saltier, sweeter or whiter.
Although I haven’t found any one thing that will guarantee an immediate culinary attitude adjustment, there are some techniques that help your finicky little diner.
1. Pick a dish your child already enjoys and swap out a refined or processed ingredient for a healthier option. Out goes the bleached white flour in your Sunday pancakes, in comes the whole-wheat white flour. Out goes the regular pasta, in comes the whole-wheat macaroni in your favorite mac-and-cheese.
2. Eliminate the “clean plate” rule. Kids who feel pressured to eat every bite of a food they’re unsure about will be more likely to dig in their heels and not want to try it at all. Encourage them to take a bite or two and see what they think. This less aggressive approach is usually more successful. What if they don’t want to take a bite? That leads to my next tip …
3. Be persistent. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Kids who see a certain item on their plate again and again tend to think of it as a familiar food that they’re more willing to try. It’s not easy to do, but more likely than not it will pay off in the end.
This last tip is more of a personal observation. In the process of writing the cookbook “300 Sensational Soups,” I served my boys lots of different soups with many unfamiliar ingredients. For some reason those strange ingredients seemed more easily accepted when they were swimming together with other foods they already knew and liked. Such is the case with Chicken Soup With Roasted Butternut Squash, Apples and Leeks.
While the concept of chicken soup is one your kids are no doubt aware of, the butternut squash and leeks may be new ingredients to them. When I want a soup that’s creamier, without adding cream, I simply smash some of the ingredients against the pot to create a more homogeneous texture. The same technique works when you don’t want one ingredient to stand out. That way the kids can taste it with all the other ingredients without getting a mouthful of just one thing.
Of course, soup is always good when it’s this cold outside, but when it serves as a vehicle for helping your child experiment with new foods, it’s even better.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.