Picture this: you’ve just spent an hour cooking a wonderfully elaborate meal, trying a new recipe that looked absolutely delicious on Pinterest, and the food has filled the house with smells that memories are made of. You set the table and sit down to a relaxing family dinner.
But your toddler won’t touch any of the food on the table. The teenager pushes the food around with a disgusted face. And the middle child tries a bite, but then just keeps drinking his water. But at least your spouse is enjoying the meal.
You’re frustrated and maybe a little hurt. What’s the point of spending all this time in the kitchen, only to have your food rejected by your kids? Dejected, you eat your food anyway, but not before telling your kids they need to eat their dinner.
And what was supposed to be a lovely, relaxing meal turns into a frustrating battle of wills.
Has a client ever described this scenario to you? If so, it’s time to share some tips and hints to help your clients get through the bumps on the road.
Picky eaters often cause parental stress, but you can help calm the waters by teaching your clients some simple strategies. With a few tools and suggestions, your clients will enjoy lovely family dinners again—without coercion or frustrations. Here is some advice to share with clients who are struggling to feed their picky eaters:
1. Engage children in weekly meal planning
Asking children to be involved in meal planning often results in better outcomes during family meal times. When children are given some say in what will be prepared for them, they’re more likely to be excited to try out new foods.
If you already have some options for meals in mind, have your children choose which meal they would like to try the most. You can also look at recipes on a meal planning website and ask your kids to help you choose a few meals for the week. Often times, attractive photos of meals will get children excited to try new foods.
2. Have the children help you purchase ingredients for their meal plans
While taking children to grocery stores can sometimes be nerve-wrecking, it can also be an important aspect of getting them excited about trying new foods. It also helps them to understand the whole meal planning process, from choosing meals, to purchasing ingredients, to cooking those meals.
Taking children grocery shopping has other benefits as well, including learning money management, nutrition information, and becoming familiar with where their food comes from.
3. Have the children help you in the kitchen
From the time most children are very young, they’re attracted to the kitchen and cooking. Invite your children to help prepare the meals they’ve chosen during the meal planning process.
Depending on age, different tasks can be encouraged. Even young toddlers can help rip lettuce leaves, younger toddlers can put napkins on the table, and older kids can help with chopping vegetables. If you’re nervous about younger children handling knives, you can always consider a toddler-friendly option.
Cooking a meal (or at least helping to cook one) gives children ownership and pride about their accomplishments in the kitchen, and can encourage them to make healthier food choices.
4. Leave vegetables and other healthy snacks within easy reach
Young children love snacks. Leave veggies and other healthy snacks within easy reach.
You can leave veggie sticks front and center and at toddler level in the fridge, or innocently “forget” some veggies on the dining room table.
The easier it is to grab, the bigger the chances the kids might try it on their own. This sort of child-led reaching for food is more successful (and less stressful) than coercion when encouraging children to try new and healthy foods.
5. Lead by example
Try new foods enthusiastically in front of your children, and be an adventurous eater yourself. Modelling this behaviour consistently could have a positive effect on your children in the long run.
6. Drop the coercion
One sure way to increase stress levels (both for you and your kids) is to have a battle of wills at the dinner table. And ideally, dinner should be a relaxing time, not a stressful one. After all, aren’t you having family dinners to reconnect and enjoy quality family time? Try to remember the goal of group dinners and enjoy being together as a family.
7. Let kids help themselves to food
Letting kids serve themselves often helps them to enjoy food more. When they have ownership of what goes on their plates, they’re more likely to actually eat it. It also helps them to develop gross motor skills, and they’ll take pride in their ability to do something important on their own.
8. Take a deep breath
Having your children help to meal plan, purchase ingredients and cook are all excellent ways to get them excited about trying new foods (or old foods cooked in a new way). But it’s also a sure way to slow down your day/evening, create messes in the kitchen, and it still won’t guarantee a cure for picky eaters. You might still get frustrated. The kids may still not be interested in something outside of their comfort zone. And that can be very frustrating.
But take a deep breath. Remember that your kids are well loved, and that you’ve done your best to get them well fed. Remember that they won’t be picky forever. Keep on helping them to participate in meal planning, meal prepping, and cooking, and help them to see food for what it is: nourishment for the body and soul. And remember to get the advice of a health professional if you need help planning meals around your child’s interests (or lack thereof).
Helping Your Clients to Reclaim Happy Family Dinners
Sharing these tips with your clients will help them to overcome the stresses of having picky eaters at home. But busy parents need even more than just tips. They need actionable steps and solutions to save them time.
A ready-made meal plan made specifically with picky eaters in mind could be the solution your clients are looking for. You can also create your own meal plans for clients, customizing them to fit their needs. Meal Garden for Professionals provides exactly that, and more.