Planning can feel hard – but it’s worth it
Anyone who plans meals regularly knows that it can really help you to be more organised, spend less time at the supermarket and also remove a lot of stress come meal times. But it can also help picky eaters to explore eating a better variety of foods.
I’ve worked with so many families of picky eaters and I understand how tricky it can be to plan a meal when kids don’t eat a great variety of foods. Putting thought into a meal that is nourishing and helps to extend the variety of foods picky eaters will eat is much easier to do when you plan ahead, rather than scrambling to cook something everyone will enjoy at the last minute each night.
You’ll feel more confident and relaxed heading into meal times when you’re organised. It’s satisfying knowing that you have covered important bases like presenting a well balanced meal that has variety and some aspect that appeals to everyone. And the less stressed we are as parents during meal time, the better our kids will eat.
Having a strategy to improve the variety of foods your picky eater will eat is really helpful to find a balance between liked foods and new or not so welcome foods. Finding this balance will involve some trial and error and it’s really important to take small steps to make improvements.
Here are some ideas to get you started…
Get them involved
Encouraging a healthy relationship between a child and the food they eat is essential for developing healthy eating habits. One of the key ways to build this relationship is to get them involved in the process (rather than just presenting food to them).
There are many ways you can get your kids invested in changing the way you eat as a family or introducing new meals or snacks from here inside the membership….
- One is to get your kids to choose a meal (or snack) each week from the Well Nourished website. If they like technology you could get them to add recipes to a meal plan themselves and if possible, let them check off the ingredients as you shop for them. Many families have already reported great success with giving picky eaters the job of selecting a ‘meal’ of the week – kids of all ages love to have a choice and really take pride in contributing. Or they could start favourites lists using the meal plan templates. My son has a Jesse’s Favourite Lunchbox treats list where he saves his favourites for me to cook from.
- Perhaps he/she can help you prep or cook it (this doesn’t need to be start to finish, even just stirring the pot for one minute or placing chopped veggies into a bowl for example). Then when you sit down to eat, make a huge fuss about how great the meal is they have picked and/ or helped make.
- One thing my kids have always loved is to talk about the food we share. Guess the ingredients (where each person names an ingredient in the meal right down to the salt and pepper) is, and always has been popular in my household and is so great for developing an interest and connection with food. When they were little we also used to talk about flavour, what we could taste…for example hot, cold, spicy, sweet, wet, dry etc;.
ALL positive interactions at the dinner table, with praise and love for the food from parents (even if the kids are being defiant or negative) goes an awfully long way towards stress free, enjoyable meals. ☺️
There are more ideas for getting your kids involved HERE.
Another thing kids love in the name of predictability is to have meal themes – it might be something you do a every night of the week or just a few. Things like ‘Meat-free Monday’ or ‘Taco Tuesday’ or ‘Tray bake Thursday’ or Fake-away Friday or even a simple ‘Sunday Roast’. The video below will help you to create a ‘Themed Dinners’ template that you can use each week to create your plan.
Make sure there is a familiar food each meal
Whilst only preparing one family meal, try to always serve something ‘new’ with familiar foods that you know your selective eater enjoys. Perhaps write a list of all the foods your child likes to eat and when you are planning meals, make sure at least one of these foods is part of the meal.
Also, see if you can identify any patterns or similarities in the textures and flavours of the foods they enjoy. Are they more soft, cooked foods or perhaps raw, crunchy foods. I’ve found with my own kids, there are certain vegetables that they love raw, but dislike cooked (and vice versa). Then you can perhaps focus on introducing meals or foods that are different, but have similar flavours or textures as the foods they already like.
Use the search function to look for recipes using ingredients they enjoy. Or search recipes, for example if they like sausage rolls, search to see a selection of healthy sausage roll recipes.
Eventually the ‘new foods’ will become old and familiar and you can move onto a new ‘new food’. This can take weeks for some kids and months for others, but if you’re persistent, it will pay off, this I know.
Self serve meals
A great way to serve a combination of new foods and familiar foods is ‘buffet style.’ So rather than presenting them with a plate of food you’d like them to eat, instead place the food on a platter, or on plates or bowls on the dining table so everyone can see and smell what’s on offer and they can choose what to dish themselves up. Little ones can direct you what they’d like on their plate.
Serving meals this way gives picky eaters control over what they chose to eat whilst also exposing them to unfamiliar foods without any pressure.
Take note of your progress
Keep tabs on how a particular meal or new or previously rejected food is received. You might find the first time you present something new, only a few mouthfuls are eaten, but the next time, a whole lot more of the meal is enjoyed. So take notes as this will help to inform future plans.
Stay calm at all costs
As hard as it is, it’s really important that you don’t fuss, coerce or show any emotion if your child fusses at dinner. If he/she doesn’t eat, then be calm, use some diversion by changing the subject or ignoring disruptive behaviour.
The division of responsibility is quite simple – you provide the meals, it’s his/her choice what and how much to eat. This is really hard to follow through for many parents, but short term pain, will create much better food habits in the long run. The minute you reward fussiness, it will perpetuate.
Take it slow!
Lastly, it’s super important to take small, positive steps forward rather than enter into a full scale battle with sweeping changes. Aim to take one step in the right direction each week, rather than trying to completely overhaul your family’s eating habits and then dealing with backlash.
The Well Nourished Family Community Group is such a supportive group so please reach out to them if you’d like to ask more questions or you’d like additional support. Chances are one of the many parents there have come up against the same things as you are.
The Healthy Kids tab on the website has a lot of additional resources for you to read, click HERE to explore.
These posts in particular are worth reading if you are parenting a picky eater…