It’s common for parents of picky eaters to worry and stress whenever meal time comes. To ensure that their children are getting enough calories, vitamins, and minerals, many well-meaning parents may force them to finish their meals and/or only prepare meals that their kids will surely eat. However, these methods may only encourage picky eating in the long run. It’s a good idea to loosen up the apron strings and allow your child some autonomy over what and how they eat. Here are some tried-and-tested ideas about how to engage even the pickiest of eaters.
1. Engage them in menu planning
Even though parents are responsible for their children, it doesn’t mean that daily tasks such as menu planning can’t be a collaborative affair. Get their opinions on what they want to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time and use this time to educate them on what makes a balanced, healthy diet. Having your tots take part in menu planning can give them a sense of responsibility and accountability. It also allows them to have the autonomy to include some of their favourite ingredients and/or dishes so that there’s a higher chance that they’ll polish off their plates.
2. Make grocery shopping exciting
Take your children along with you the next time you make a beeline for the grocery store or market. This way, your kids can be more involved in the entire process of preparing meals and thus have more appreciation for food. Use this time to educate them about the different kinds of vegetables, fruits, and meats and the different ways they can be prepared. Expose your children to food of different cultures as this can widen their horizons and excite their senses. While at the shops, teach them other life skills such as how to pay, how to bag groceries, as well as how to budget and count change.
3. Link good food to good health
It’s important that your children have a good relationship with food to avoid eating disorders and health issues in the future. Always give them positive reinforcement and never force them to finish anything they don’t want to as doing so might cause development of a negative association with certain foods or with food in general. Highlight certain vitamins and minerals found in food and let them know why their bodies need them. For example, mention that broccoli is high in fibre which means it’s good for digestion or let them know that lemons are high in vitamin c which is essential for boosting the immune system.
4. Put on their chef’s hat
Not only is cooking fun and educational, but it’s also a good bonding experience for you and your children. Teach your children how to be empowered and handy in the kitchen and have them start off by assisting you with simple tasks such as reading recipes, whisking eggs, stirring sauces, and measuring out ingredients. As your children get older, start delegating more tasks to them. You can even pass down family recipes which are not only delicious but have emotional value as well. Having your child participate in cooking can build their self-esteem, appetite, and connection to the food. However, don’t just engage them in the fun bits, let them give you a hand in clearing plates and washing up too.
5. Encourage their green fingers
Connecting the food that’s on the table to how food is grown is a way to engage your children more deeply with their food and get them more interested in what they put in their mouths. Teaching your little ones about how food grows can be a magical experience for children and it encourages a connection to nature, first-hand learning, and physical activity. If you live in a flat and don’t have the luxury of growing a small food garden, take them out to nearby farms or grow herbs and small vegetables and fruits in pots on your balcony or windowsill. An easier alternative that also cuts down on food wastage is having your children regrow fruit and vegetables like carrots, potatoes, lettuce, and garlic.
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