Getting Picky Eaters to Branch Out

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My children are picky eaters. I feel like on any given week I’m rotating between three or four options for each kid at every meal. For the little one, it’s either a yogurt and fruit, a cheese stick and toast, a piece of pizza (she’s actually eaten two giant slices in one sitting!), or a giant plate of noodles. She’d eat noodles morning, noon, and night if I let her, this little pasta-lover of mine! For my four year old, it’s either chicken nuggets and French fries or French fries and chicken nuggets (at least they’re organic—right?!?). Mealtime is a struggle and a battle of the wills, but I refuse to give up. One of these days, they’ll actually eat the vegetable I put in front of them, and victory will be mine. Until then, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to get them to eat, and at least encourage them to try something new. I’m sharing my tips here—just in case you, too, have a stubborn nugget-eating nugget at home!

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Follow Your Child’s Lead—and Mood
Recently, Grant asked about the beets on my plate. “Those are so colorful, Mommy.” I took that as a cue to offer him a bite. He refused. But the next time I had them, I tried again—“aren’t these so fun and purple?!?” Again, he hesitated. I let it go. Eventually, after a bit of gentle nudging and some repeated exposure, he acquiesced. He didn’t love them, but I was proud he tried. And, of course, this hard-headed mama is going to keep persisting (and I wonder where my kids got their stubborn streak). I also always try to gauge my “audience.” If the kids are cranky, I’ll hold off on new-food introductions and stick to the basics. Like I said, I pick my battles. (Nuggets it is!)

Take Them Out to Eat
I want my kids to enjoy a variety of cuisines. I want them to be eager eaters and curious culinary adventurers. But right now, we’re in what my pediatrician has dubbed the “PB&Hotdog” phase of toddlerhood, meaning their palettes are picky and their minds are made up. But that doesn’t stop me from taking them out to eat. Now, don’t get me wrong, we’re not going to fancy restaurants with two toddlers—but we try to offer variety and options in our dining-out ventures. Generally, we stick to casual local eateries and some tried-and-true chains.

 Chopstick drums for the win!

Chopstick drums for the win!

Last week, my husband and I took them to PF Changs and tried the chain’s new, more refined menu. I ordered crispy string beans and told my son they were green French fries. He totally went for it—and chowed down on them along with a big portion of sweet-and-sour chicken. And my daughter, a bona-fide noodle fanatic, actually ate lo-mein. My husband and I were able to enjoy our entrees in peace—because our kids were totally happy! I look at this experience as our gateway to more exotic international cuisines. Baby steps—I mean, the boy ate green beans, let me soak in this winning moment for a little while!

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Try Fun Plates, Utensils, and Accessories
At home, I’ve been serving my kids some of their meals in a fun bento box. They enjoy discovering what I’ve put in each “cubby” and are more apt to try something new. Oh, and chopsticks are a hit! My son enjoyed the challenge of trying to pick up his food with them. In fact, he even tried using them in rice—something he has refused to eat probably since the day I fed it to him in mushy first cereal form. My daughter thought they were drumsticks, but, hey, a little creative entertainment at the dinner table never hurts. Since our dining experience, I picked up these adorable SkipHop “training chopsticks” for the littles. Grant uses them to eat all sorts of foods now. He even picked up and ate the kiwi out of his fruit salad (something he has refused to previously accept), and—what do you know—he actually enjoyed it. Now if only he’d try the green veggies too!

1. Boon Snug Spout Universal Sippy Cup Tops and Straws, $10/ 2. Fun Bites Food Shape Cutters, $15/ 3. Planet Box Rover, $56/ 4. SkipHop Training Chopsticks, $7

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There's Always Room for Compromise
I pick my battles with my kids. It makes my life easier and their lives more pleasant. But I don’t just give in—I always offer a compromise. That’s why I introduce a new food with a tried-and-true classic. The halibut I want my babies to eat will always be served next to a big pile of strawberries or a side of squash or a portion of pasta. I ask them to try a bite of the “new dish” before they eat their favorite. Usually, it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t force the issue, but I’m happy if they take even the tiniest little nibble. It’s the small victories. Literally.

Remember, There’s Always the Next Meal
I used to fret about the quantity of food my kids were consuming. If they didn’t eat a proper meal, I���d be a mess—maybe they’ll wake up ravenous in the middle of the night… Maybe they’re missing important nutrients… Maybe I’m not trying hard enough…. Maybe I should just give them the donut they’re asking for.

Here’s something I’ve figured out (after a gentle pep talk from my child’s pediatrician): there’s always the next meal. Your kids will make up for it. They’ll eat if they’re hungry, and they’ll be fine if they don’t. It’s a phase—and this too shall pass.. Let’s hope—because I’m really over all the PB&Hotdogs!

This is not a sponsored post. Samples were received for review. All opinions are our own.

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