Picky eaters. We all have them. And if you don’t think you do, just wait a little bit longer. I remember my first born would eat anything I gave him. As a dietitian, I relished in this and was so proud. But then he turned three and literally woke up one day saying he wouldn’t eat his peas because they were green. Because they were whaaaat? Granted, this phase didn’t last forever, but he still has his weird aversions. He doesn’t like macaroni and cheese (the go to meal for children and he won’t eat it), noodles in general bother him, and some of my favorite fruits such as pineapple, bananas, oranges (because he “can’t swallow them”). And the list goes on….

Here’s the thing though: I keep giving these foods to him. He will eat bananas if I put peanut butter on them, oranges were a tough no for awhile, but now he feels able to swallow them better (insert eye roll emoji), and some noodles suit him more than others. My point is, don’t let your picky eaters dictate their meals. Granted you don’t want to waste time and money offering them foods they won’t eat, but tastes change, attitudes change, and the more they are exposed to something, the higher the chance they may eventually like it.

The rule in our house is that they have to try everything. There’s been a few times where my little ones are so horrified by the food that they think putting their tongue on it counts as trying it, but I really push for that “chew it up and swallow it” method. And if they’ve tried it once and didn’t like it, it doesn’t matter, they have to try it again. You may have heard that the idea of children needing to finish their plates can lead to obesity. The research behind this claim parents push for overeating when your child may be full. I’m not an expert in this matter, but as a parent I know I’m super thrilled when they lick their plates clean because it means at bedtime, they’re not going to be telling me how hungry they are. (at least I hope not). Regardless, forcing, I mean encouraging them to try everything gives them control in that they don’t have to finish the entire food, but they’re still being exposed to the item and will be more likely to actually enjoy that food as they get older.

It’s also easy to assume your child isn’t going to like something. Brussel sprouts for example have a bad reputation, but I dare you to put them on your little one’s plate; you may be in for a treat. Furthermore, it’s especially important to start doing this when they’re young. The older they get, the more aware they are, and the scarier a new food can be. Don’t think just because they’re one years old, they can’t have Brussel sprouts. It’s those one year olds that seem to be the best eaters!

If you’ve given a food multiple tries with no success, it’s time to liven it up. Maybe that means cinnamon on sweet potatoes, ranch on carrots (gasp!- but seriously there are some healthy ranch dressings out there), or sneaking spinach into smoothies or muffins.  If there is a will, there’s a way.

Lastly, include your children. I have safety knives that mine can use to help me cut up fruits and veggies and they get so excited to do this. By involving them in the process, they may be more apt to eat it. Talk about where food comes from: apples grow on trees, pineapples grow out of the ground, and so on.  Let them pick out some produce at the grocery store. Educate them on why fruits and veggies are so good for them. This all makes food less scary and more appealing to them. Also, eat dinner with your babies. I know some families who feed their baby and put them to bed before they eat their dinner. How confusing for a little one to sit and eat alone when you’re sitting there looking at them. They learn from us and by showing them healthy foods on your plate, they really will become better eaters based on that alone.  Children love experiences, and by giving them happy experiences with foreign foods, they may be more apt to eat them.

The following snacks are picky eater approved at my house and are also healthy and delicious:

Veggies and hummusseriously, my picky eaters love hummus-they eat it with a spoon

Celery and peanut butteryou’ve heard of ants on a log, if raisins on top don’t do the trick, try mini chocolate chips—anything to get them to eat celery

Trail mix—my babes don’t like nuts, until it’s nuts and m&ms and then it’s a winner

Sweet potato fries—not the kind doused in marshmallows and brown sugar, but roast some sliced sweet potatoes with cinnamon and salt, and they’ll gorge them down

Popcorn—this isn’t the most nutritious snack in the world, but it’s got some fiber and makes kids so happy; pair it with some fresh fruit

Plain Greek yogurtwith a bit of honey

String cheese—also paired with fruit, it’s a great snack

Apples and peanut butteralways a hit (anything with peanut butter, really)

So remember to keep encouraging those little ones to try new foods and old foods, keep including them in all aspects of grocery shopping, food prep and the actual meal, and don’t be afraid to disguise the healthy stuff to get them to eat it. Just don’t expect results over night, I don’t promise miracle 😉 .