This guest post is written by Jennifer Taylor, blogger at www.momtricks.com.
Have you ever sat at the dinner table, begging and pleading your child to at least try the food in front of them? If so, I've been there. And we're not alone: this is a very common problem that a lot of parents face. A frustrating, stressful problem. A 2010 study showed that up to 22% of children are picky eaters are some point.
But there is hope! My son Alex was a very picky eater. I couldn't even get him to try things like broccoli or cauliflower. Never being a picky eater myself, having happily gobbled down those veggies when I was a kid, I couldn't relate to not wanting to eat veggies. I was a certifiable veggie monster when I was his age! He wasn't that way. And it was extremely frustrating. We eventually made good progress against his picky eating habits, and now he's much better off! It wasn't easy, and it took a lot of work, though.
What I find works awesomely is to make them involved in the whole process of making the meal, from start to finish. There's something about being involved and important that makes them so much more willing to eat the end result. And in my experience, it works so well!
Let them pick the vegetables!
The first step, and the most crucial, is to let them pick the type of veggies you'll be using in the finished product. This is an easy one! But you have to go about this differently depending on how old your child is. For example, if your child is older, you can give them free reign to pick anything they want from the vegetable section at the grocery store. Within reason, of course. However, if your child is younger, it's much easier for you to pick out a few different veggies and then let them decide between them. While they're not making a huge decision, they're still making one, and this makes them feel involved in the whole process! It really works.
Let them pick out the recipe.
The next step is to let them decide on the recipe to use. There's really no better way to do this than by using Pinterest! You probably already have a Pinterest account, but even if you don't, you don't need one to search on the site. Just head on over to Pinterest and type in a search for recipes using your ingredients. For example, if you have a tasty zucchini, you can search for "zucchini recipes" and you'll quickly get back a whole display of awesome, tasty-looking recipes. It's such a great way to get ideas, not just for getting kids to eat vegetables, but for cooking in general! Once you have a few recipes picked out, show them to your son or daughter and ask them to pick which one looks most appealing to them. Just make sure you let them decide from amongst recipes you want to actually cook!
Let them help prepare the meal.
The final important step is to let them physically help prepare the final product. They can be involved as much as suitable for their age. For example, if they're young, even just washing off the veggies or helping add ingredients to a salad is awesome. If they're older, they can be more involved, and maybe even help cut veggies or mix things. Safety is important, so keep them to only activities that they can't accidentally hurt themselves doing. As long as they're doing something to help, they're going to feel both important and involved!
Summing it up.
If you let them be involved from start to finish, they're going to be much more willing to eat the final product. Letting them pick the veggies helps remove some of the fear and uncertainty of eating strange new things. Even a young child will be able to make the connection of buying the vegetable at the store to it ending up in the final product. Not only that, but having choice and being important in preparing the meal is pretty magical. It works so well, and I think you'd be surprised at how open they'll be to eating even things they refused to touch before.
What not to do.
During your struggle to get your picky eater to eat their veggies, you might be tempted to trick them and sneak veggies into other foods, like meatloaf or lasagna. But hold on there! It's just not a good idea in the long run. The difficult part is getting their little tastebuds used to the new flavors and textures of the veggies they dislike. If you mix it into other things, they're never going to get used to them, and so you might be getting them to get some veggies into their tummies now, it's not really solving the real problem.
You also shouldn't ever force them to finish the meal. This only serves to give them a negative association to the food, and further reinforces their picky eating habits. Finally, don't let them eat between meals. A hungry kid is much more willing to try new foods, but if their little bellies are full of crackers or cookies, or if they know they'll get some later if they don't finish the meal, they're not going to be very motivated to eat!
Let me know if you give this method a try! I'd love to answer any questions you might have, or if you have any more suggestions, I'd love to hear them!