You had great luck the first few years, making sure your little ones were exposed to just about every food in your repertoire. Now fast forward four or five years, and you suddenly have a bunch of close-minded eaters on your hands who won’t even try foods that they once loved. How do you get your kids to try new foods (or old foods that they’ve since rejected)?
For starters, you probably know by now that forcing foods will never work. For one thing, it sets up a power struggle over food: Even if you win the battle, you’ll lose the war over the long term. For another thing, it doesn’t give your children the chance to grow into the foods and discover for themselves that different foods can actually taste good. So if you’re starting this process by girding for battle, it’s time to put down your dukes. Take a deep breath. Remember that food is pleasurable, and mealtime should be enjoyable (remember those days, way back when?).
You can start by having your child help you do the shopping and meal preparations. Have them come with you to the market so they can pick up, feel, and smell the fresh fruits and vegetables that are on your list. (If you’re particularly inspired, have them help you pick out seeds to plant in a garden that will grow all kinds of new foods for them to try.)
At home, let them help in simple ways. Kids love tearing up lettuce to put in a salad, and they will probably beg for turns with the salad spinner. They can help with simple stirring and mashing chores too.
At the table, try offering your child a small taste of what you are eating (only one new food at a time, please). If you offer it while they are hungry, you’ll have a better chance of getting them to eat it. They don’t have to eat a lot of it and they can even spit it out – but if they are willing to taste it, praise them for trying. Remember that you may need to offer them a food on 10 or 15 different occasions before they are willing to eat it.
You can also serve it in a way that’s familiar to them. Do you want them to try steak, but they really only like hamburger? Serve them small bites of steak with a little cup of ketchup for dipping sauce.
Last, don’t fall into the trap of making separate meals for your picky eater. Have at least one item on the table that you know your child will eat (even if it’s only bread from the bread basket) and let them pick and choose from the same offerings that everyone else is eating.
If you still feel like you’re in a mealtime rut, mix it up every once in a while. Have your kids be in charge of menu planning. Designate one night a week as “make-your-own” night (make your own sandwiches, pizzas, tacos, etc.). Have a breakfast-for-dinner night (serve eggs, bacon, pancakes while everyone wears pajamas). Keep finding new ways to show them that there’s a whole world of food out there for them to enjoy, and soon they will want to take part in the adventure too.