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Modeling. Not just parents, but siblings and peers can be really effective too. Be willing to try new things and experiment with new concoctions. A great example of this was with one of our Picky Eater Project families. The 7-year-old boy was pretty picky but also likes to be the life of a party. Friend came over with cooked mussels and challenged him to give it a try -- after she did it first. Not to be outdone, he went for it (to his parents' shock) and turned out really liking them and eating several more. Not what you might expect to be a 'favorite food' of a picky eater.
Set the stage for your child to try new foods but don't force it. Offer up a balanced meal, try to include something you know your child will like, and leave it at that. This is dinner. Eat what you'd like. Don't eat, no problem, but there isn't another option or 'back up' meal. The idea is parents decide what food is offered, when, and where (ideally at the kitchen table, with the whole family, and all screens put away). Then, the child decides what to eat and how much. No 'clean plate club'. No food battles. No stress.
Get the kids involved in growing, choosing, prepping, and cooking the food! In fact, this might be all it takes for a child to be willing to try a new food -- free of coercion and bribes.
Aim for balance, but let them choose. We have options from each of the key food groups -- grains (ideally whole grains), protein (turkey), vegetables, fruit, and dairy. Our goal is for a child to eat a balanced meal. Give them a chance to try.
Taste as you go! As kids help with cooking or setting out the foods, they may give some different tastes a try - without needing to be prompted to do so. It may be tempting to say -- "spinach, no way my child will every try that!" But you might be very surprised.
It’s all about "training your taste buds". It can take 15-20 tries to like a new food. Don't force kids to eat but rather nudge. For example, my son is not a tomato fan - now. But we all understand and agree that he is working on 'training his taste buds'. We keep offering tomatoes and he keeps trying - as part of an 'experiment'. A child might look at a food on this spread -- say the avocado -- and say 'yuck, I don't like that'. When my patients say that, I always follow up with -- "how do you know." In many cases, they've never even tried it! Then I teach them about how they can train their tastes buds -- an experiment. This is much more effective than a parent forcing a child to try a new food.
Pairing flavors can be an effective way to introduce a new food too. For example, the spinach or many green vegetables may be a little bitter tasting to a child, but for this mix and match if they added the sweetness of cranberry sauce (which by the way is sweet due to adding sugar to what is otherwise a very bitter fruit!) may make it more acceptable.
Give kids a choice. Kids love a sense of control -- especially toddlers who tend to be the pickiest among us.
Mix and Match Sandwich Options
Have 2+ options from each of the food groups.
peanut OR ALMOND butter
whole wheat bread or whole wheat dinner roll
roasted sliced sweet potatoes
thin sliced carrots
sliced apples or pears
cheddar cheese slices
Extras: mustard, honey, mayonnaise
4 Granny Smith or other tart apples, top third of the apple cut off
1/4 cup dried fruit like raisins, dried cranberries, currants, or chopped dried apricots or prunes
1/4 cup coarsely chopped lightly roasted nuts like walnuts or pecans
1 Tablespoon maple syrup, brown sugar, or honey (sweetener)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup water
Turn the oven on and set it to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the apples on a cutting board and remove the top two-thirds of the core by using a melon baller or spoon. Lightly prick the top of the sides of the apple with a fork (this prevents the apples from splitting). Put the dried fruit, nuts, sweetener, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Divide the mixture into 4 parts and stuff it inside the apples. Put the water in the baking dish. Place the apples on top of the water, standing up. Carefully put the baking dish in the oven and bake until the apples are soft, about 1 hour. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.