In one of my previous posts we talked about why helping our children eat better and getting picky eaters to try new foods isn’t just about WHAT we serve them.
It’s also about HOW we serve those foods.
Kids tend to gravitate to certain food groups (or shy away from them). Some little ones avoid vegetables or anything green, whereas my daughter was anti-protein for a loooong time.
As a Certified Nutritionist, I knew Sienna’s diet was lacking nutritionally, so the pressure was on to help her (my former picky eater) try new foods. Especially foods that were superior sources of iron.
It wasn’t until I dug into the research and earned Certifications in Picky Eating/Problem Feeding that I truly understood why she wasn’t eating well (what I was doing ‘wrong’ in some cases). And what it would take to help her eat better (for a child who seemed to have NO appetite).
That’s when meals changed for us.
Heck, that’s when LIFE changed.
She was eating happily. I wasn’t stressed out. And mealtimes were finally calm. Dare I say…they were also enjoyable (and still are).
A transition I never thought would happen. Sienna was on the extreme side of picky eating and the light at the end of the tunnel was dim. Yet, with the right approach, her picky eating started to dissolve. Of course, she still has her days. Don’t we all! But as a whole, she is a different child.
While some strategies worked better than others, changing up HOW I served food in the beginning was definitely part of the ‘picky eating’ puzzle.
Let me just say that this blog post isn’t necessarily going to solve every mealtime challenge (there is game plan for that). However, keeping things fresh at the table is one of many ways to save your sanity at meals in the short-term. And maybe even get your little one to FINALLY try a green pea:)
Helping Picky Eaters Try New Foods with Cheap & Cheerful Tools
Our little ones would rather play than sit at the table eating. Unless we make food fun too!
Here are a few seemingly obvious tools that will put a fun twist on your next meal – without stocking up on new kitchen tools.
In this post, I get down to the basics (and freebies) so you can simply repurpose what you already have sitting in your cupboards. Or in my case, in the dishwasher 😉
Muffin Trays: Make it a mini buffet
Muffin trays aren’t just for muffins. They are an inexpensive and clever way to bring food to the table. Genius!
This is one of my favourites tools for snack time and a great way to use up lingering leftovers in the fridge.
Many picky eaters prefer to keep foods separate, and using a muffin tin ensures that different foods are compartmentalized. I would recommend getting a six slot muffin tray for simplicity (easier to fill 6 vs. 12) and choose foods that vary in colour. Try yogurt, veggie sticks, chopped egg, blueberries, roasted chickpeas, olives (you’d be surprised how many kids like olives). Anything goes here.
If you are feeding more than one kiddo, fill a few holes with different dips (red pepper hummus, beet puree, yogurt dip, guacaomole, salsa, etc) along side veggies or crackers for dipping. Include foods your little one might not usually eat with others he/she does eat. Witnessing their little buddies snack away could give them the motivation to try something new.
You could always use ice cube trays instead – you just have more holes to fill:)
BONUS TIP: Condiments are a great transitionary tool for helping kids try new foods and is one of the effective strategies I talk about in my upcoming FREE Picky Eating 101 Webinar. I show parents (with or without picky eaters) the best ways to improve their child’s willingness to try new food, with research-backed strategies that do work – and ones you can use right away.
Toothpicks: Let them pick away
The benefits of these simple and inexpensive sticks are far reaching.
First off, they make eating fun for kids. Being able to poke foods on their plate with something other than a fork (boring) goes a long way with kids who would rather be playing. They are easier to maneuver by poking or stabbing a food to pick it up vs. having to scoop or properly place a fork.
Secondly, the structure of a toothpick (being long and thin) does a better job at placing foods closer to the back molars where they have better control of chewing. When Sienna turned two years old (or at least an age where I could trust that she wouldn’t poke herself) I started to put small pieces of proteins like fish, meat, eggs, and other foods she had difficulty chewing on toothpicks. Toothpicks or cocktail forks are beneficial for children with oral motor deficits (who aren’t able to move their mouth or tongue in the appropriate way for chewing foods).
Skewers: Put their meal on a stick
Grab a few skewers and thread on some bite-sized pieces of chicken or salmon with grilled peppers and sweet potatoes. For dessert or a snack, try a fruit kebab with melon, berries, grapes, mango intermingled with cubes of avocado. Not only are they visually appealing especially when alternating different coloured foods, but they are fun to eat. Just keep a close eye on your kiddo to ensure no one gets injured in the process.
For the older kiddos, why not have them decide what goes on their kebab. And for everyone, take the “dip tip” I provided earlier and offer a side of their favourite condiment or sauce to dip their meal on a stick.
Straws: Get them slurping or sucking
I almost cried the first time Sienna asked for a green smoothie (and green juice). As you can tell from the photo, I was sneaking a peek of her sipping away because I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I would love to tell you that her mom’s aptitude for nutrition is rubbing off at the ripe age of 3, but that would be a lie. Her interest in these mom/nutritionist-approved juices was driven by two things: (1) the vibrancy and colour of the drink. Green is fun and more appetizing then the greyish or brownish smoothies I whip up in my Vitamix. And (2) the straw.
There’s just something about that stick with a hole running through it. Kid’s love them. And in some cases, parents love them too for the mess-free drinking (sometimes) and their ability to get more liquids into their kids. As well as some smoothies that pack a nutrient punch with veggies, etc.
The best part: straws don’t have to be limited to beverages alone. Throw one into their bowl of soup and let them slurp away.
What type of straw doesn’t really matter, but there are options: stainless steel (which we use at home), glass (but be careful with kids), plain old plastic variety, or BPA-free acrylic ones as well.
I absolutely love writing posts like this because what I’ve shared isn’t rocket science. It’s all simple stuff you can try at home at your next meal. Even more rewarding is that this ‘simple stuff’ works and knowing there will be a little guy or gal somewhere who decide to take their FIRST sip or nibble of a new food because of this.
I’m super passionate about this stuff (can you tell!) and wanted to share the REALLY good stuff in a webinar.
If you’re just as passionate and could use some game-changing tips for your next meal, join me in this FREE 60-minute webinar. I show parents (with or without picky eaters) how to improve their child’s willingness to try new food. All research-backed and evidenced-based strategies that you’re going to love.
You can learn more and register here.