Sometimes it can be a challenge to get young kids—especially those picky eaters!—to eat healthy foods. But it’s not impossible. All it takes is a little creativity and patience. Here are some tips for encouraging your youngest family members to try new, nutritious foods.
Serve the right amount. Offer your child 1 tablespoon of each food for each year of age. For example, if your child is 3, serve 3 tablespoons of each food. When you serve small portions, your child won’t feel overwhelmed can always ask for more.
Let kids help. Encourage your child to choose the family’s fruits and veggies in the supermarket produce section, and then look for ways your child can help in the kitchen, engaging them in the cooking process. Think about age-appropriate tasks such as setting the table or stirring, chopping, and measuring ingredients. If they are invested in making the food, they’ll take pride in the final result and will be more likely to try it.
Get growing in the garden. Gardening season is here, and getting kids involved with the backyard garden is a great way to get them interested in fresh produce. Encourage them to plant, pick, and try fresh veggies. One mom says, “Tomatoes and sugar snap peas are still some of Emmy’s favorites because she was eating from the garden as soon as she was old enough.”
Be a little sneaky. Hide fruits and vegetables in familiar foods your child already enjoys: Add butternut squash to mac and cheese, incorporate zucchini into muffins, add healthy ingredients to smoothies. Make swaps your kids won’t notice, such as supplementing white flour with wheat flour and substituting applesauce or banana for some sugar in baked goods.
Offer choices. Instead of giving just one vegetable to your toddler, let them choose between two options. “Would you like broccoli or cauliflower for dinner?” Having a choice will give them a sense of independence and ownership.
Make things fun. Display food in colorful, creative ways on your child’s plate. Graham crackers can become mini pizzas topped with yogurt and fruit. Whole grain crackers or bagels come to life when you use fruits and veggies to form a funny face. Give foods fun names. Local mom Lisa says, “I make my girls ‘monster pasta’--I blend spinach, garlic, milk, and cheese together and use it as a sauce on their pasta. They love it!”
Mix new with old. Serve new foods alongside favorites. This may make trying something new easier. Remember to keep it fun and positive, encouraging your child to try just a little. Small steps can make a big difference over time. Be patient—you might have to offer new foods many times before your child will try it.
Let them dip. Provide healthy dips to encourage your child to try new fruits or vegetables. Hummus, yogurt, and low-fat salad dressings all make great dips.
Set a good example. If your child sees you eating a variety of healthy foods, they’ll be more likely to try them. Kids learn by watching you, so let them see how you enjoy nutritious foods.