Get kids to try new foods without bribing, negotiating, or counting bites
Have you ever wondered…”what should we eat today?” Followed by something along these lines?
“That white chicken chili I had for lunch at a friends’ house last week was delicious and she gave me the recipe! No… it has beans, and my kids hate beans. We had a hunger strike last time I attempted to use beans, and then my 5 year old got cookies for bedtime snack so he wouldn’t wake up hungry during the night…”
“What about the salmon soup recipe Mom sent me on pinterest? I have salmon to use up! …No, my kids won’t eat that because it has ‘chunks’ of potatoes and carrots, and ‘chunks’ are cause for revolt.”
“I’d love to try burritos with quinoa in them! Maybe use up some of the big bag of quinoa I bought at Costco because it’s supposed to be so healthy… but quinoa is something new so my kids will spot it out in an instant and reuse to even try it. I just know it. Scrap that idea.”
Fine.. Spaghetti and sauce or pizza with only cheese because veggies send my 3 year old in fits of hysteria. Maybe I can add a few extra toppings to half the pizza, as long as they ‘don’t touch’ the other side…
I just love cooking for my family. It’s great that they will eat… two things. “
Sound familiar? Ok, maybe a bit on the exaggerated side…
If it does sound somewhat annoyingly familiar, know you’re not the only one trying to deal with kids who refuse to try new or different foods. It’s one of the most common challenges around feeding kids that readers have shared with me.
Here are a few challenges real moms i’ve spoken with have shared.
“My kids want to eat the same foods over and over”.
“My biggest challenge is getting my kids to try new things. If some dish looks at all like something they might not like, they are so resistant to try it. I try to encourage them to decide to try it and don’t want to force them, but sometimes they DO like it IF they try it.”
“My 8 year old doesn’t like to try new foods unless he’s bribed”.
“[I have a] 5 year old boy. Only veggie he eats is carrots because he doesn’t think they are a vegetable (not sure why…). He does not always eat what we eat at dinner. [He] prefers nuggets, pasta, chicken, pb&j and pancakes.”
“I’d just like to make one meal and have everyone eat it”.
These moms honestly just want their kids eating a well balanced diet and they wish it could happen without so much fuss, bribing, & negotiating, while making one meal for the entire family.
I’m in full agreement! Even if you enjoy cooking, it gets old pretty quickly if your efforts are met with glares and clamped mouths. I’ll share a few things that have helped here in getting new foods (fuss-free) into our boys’ stomaches.
1. Start with the familiar
Imagine walking into an unfamiliar restaurant. You’ve never been there before.
Now imagine that the food is already out, buffet style, and when you look down the serving table, you don’t recognize any of it.
It smells good. It even looks attractive like someone put a lot of effort into making the food, but you have no idea what it will taste like. The meat and side dishes have sauces, dressings, and unfamiliar garnishes.
Then you spot one pan at the far end with simple roasted veggies on it, and they are ones you know and recognize.
I’m going to bet that one of the items on your plate is going to be from that familiar pan of simple roasted veggies, and not because it’s certainly the best tasting, but because it’s safe and familiar.
Safe and familiar are key when you’re looking to introduce new dishes or ingredients to your kids.
So, how? Just stick with the same old thing and don’t change anything up? Thanks, Kendra. I thought we were getting kids to try new foods here…
Never fear! We are.
An easy way to apply this technique is to choose a new way to offer an already loved food in or beside a new dish. For example, my boys love corn. It’s always well received. They also think any meal involving chips is beyond awesome, and cheese can make any dubious entree a little more approachable.
They did not used to like chili because it had a) hot spices & b) beans. (Apparently the very height of bad)
Enter ‘begin with the familiar’. I put together a recipe for a mild white-bean chili and the star veggie involved is corn. The recipe also has spinach, quinoa, lentils, and white beans, but I called it ‘corn chili’, and in the beginning I served it with taco chips for scooping & cheese on top. We rarely have chips with a meal, so they were very excited to have that on the table.
The corn won them over, and the chips and cheese made the whole meal a lot of fun, taking the focus from the fact that there are spices and beans involved! I made no efforts to ‘hide’ the fact that they were eating chili and that it was full of beans.
I sometimes still serve this with the chips and cheese, other times not, but we have no complaints when ‘corn chili’ is for supper. Actually, I’ve served it without the corn now when I didn’t have any on hand, and since the entire dish is now a familiar menu item, beans and all, it’s not cause for protest. Thanks, corn!
2. Get them involved
Ok, you may have seen this one coming, or be cringing at the thought of it, but honestly, it’s one of your most powerful cards to play as a mom making a new dish if your child is resistant to trying new foods. If you haven’t been inviting your child to help in food prep, now is the time to start!
“But the mess…! And my patience just isn’t up to it! Besides, it takes so much longer!”
Just quoting a few of my own thoughts here for you…any of them sound like yours?
I know… It does make more of a mess. It does try patience. And it more than likely will take longer. But in the end, having your child help with food preparations = way less resistance to eating the food. As your child sits down to a meal he’s helped to prepare, it’s already half way to his stomach without you saying a single word!
And when you thank him for helping you make the meal, it only builds on the ownership he already feels.
So embrace the mess as part of teaching healthy eating, bravely bolster your patience, start 20 minutes sooner than usual, but get your kid involved!
P.s. They don’t have to be involved from start to finish or every time and it can actually be a lot of fun!
Easy ways kids can help:
- Choose the recipe from a few you’ve pre-selected- Choice is key to letting your child ‘own’ the meal and this way of getting them involved is ‘mess free’ 🙂
- Pick fruit/veg at the grocery store (Choice again)
- Count & collect ingredients
- Push blender buttons
- Choose toppings
- Set out the ‘right colour’ plates/cups etc, saving you the hassle of re-setting the table when the dark blue cup wasn’t set out and yellow just ‘isn’t any good’.
There are even ways young kids can help in the kitchen while you stay (relatively) sane.
3. Sell them on the ‘why’ in a way they will relate to
Mom: “Eat those veggies because they are good for you.”
“Did you know they keep you healthy?” (Coaxing smile).
“They’ll help you grow big and…”
…Why isn’t he listening? *fume*. Here I am in the middle of my list of great goodness this food will do, and he isn’t even paying attention! Kids these days!
*Mom huffs out of the kitchen.*
You know it as well as I do. Our kids aren’t going to learn by us going overboard on lecturing them about the greatness of healthy foods. Yes, eventually some tidbits might be absorbed or remembered, but too much insisting on our part about how ‘healthy’ this food is, and too many times of requiring that ‘x number’ of bites be eaten, or ‘no dessert until…’ only equates nutritious food with ‘boring, bad tasting, and something only to be eaten when forced’ in a child’s mind.
Dress it up a bit! Kids learn through play, so giving a fun vision of the awesome benefits of nutritious food will go far!
This goes hand in hand with the mindset of creating a positive environment around healthy eating- see: A simple technique to get your kids to (happily) eat healthy food.
I like to talk about the ‘super fighters’ that are in healthy foods. In our house they’re depicted as the tiny super hero tribe inside of nutritious foods, ready to be eaten and defend my boys from the BIG, BAD, NASTY GERMS that try invade and make them sick! Tiny superman on the loose, capturing the bad guys and booting them out!
This works here because our boys love superheroes, but other defending fighters would works as well. A tribe of princess warriors? Ninjas? An actual mini personal military if your child knows someone in the armed forces?
In addition to this, I’ve had success with making up stories that include new foods & healthy eating habits, like the adventure stories found here at tiny tummy tales in the tale library , to share the awesomeness of nutritious food! Kids’ stories take the pressure off ‘healthy’ and off ‘new’, and instead make it a fun thing to hear about! Kids learn through play, and this is a way that healthy eating can be taught without lectures, bribing, and bit counting.
As a side note- I don’t think making every single food into a story is a good idea or necessary, but it is a fun way to teach healthy habits and encourage trying a new meal.
Alright! There are a few ideas to trial to get your ‘only pancakes and pb & j’ youngsters branching out to test some new foods without resorting to bribery, negotiating, or pulling your hair out! 😉 Give one a try and let me know how it goes for you!