Sunday, May 20, 2012

How I got my kids to eat (almost) everything!

When my firstborn was 15 months old...I was still feeding her baby food.  Not homemade baby food either...jar baby food meant for 6 month old infants.  To make it worse, there were only 3-4 "flavors" she would eat.  OK, to make it even worse...she would only eat if we put on YouTube and let her watch The Wiggles.


And this is how we fed her day in and day out.  Some days she would literally only eat a french fry and a banana.  I was SO frustrated and had no clue what to do besides feed her while she was spaced out watching The Wiggles.  Eating out somewhere or at someones home was SO embarrassing because she would not eat one single thing.  I did not know how to change things, but I knew that this was not the way I wanted meal time to go in our family (and The Wiggles version of Hot Potato was getting on my last nerve!)

Fast forward five years and now my girls eat (almost) everything I put out for them!  Here are some of the things we have changed in our home to get us where are now:

1.  We stopped buying processed convenience foods.
      This was hard for me because it used to be so easy for me pull out a bag of chicken nuggets and fries and serve them as a meal that the kids would be guaranteed to eat.  The problem was that this was the only kind of food they wanted.  So, when dinner did not look good to them they would try to default to the processed foods instead of trying the new foods.  We also extended this to breakfast cereal.  Completely getting rid of the sugary cereals changed the girls' palate and now they like homemade oatmeal and organic sugar free cereals.

Preparing the sweet potatoes she helped mash herself

2.  The kids get involved in buying and cooking food
     In the summer we have a local farmers market we visit.  When we go there we give the girls money to purchase any vegetable they want!  Last year, Sofia chose an eggplant and when it was served for dinner, she ate it excitedly!  In the kitchen, I make it a big deal to help out.  I let the girls sit on the high bar stools and I really let them do most of the work they can safely do.  Some of their favorite big girl jobs include cutting basil into small pieces with scissors, cracking and peeling hard boiled eggs, mashing potatoes and buttering bread before mom puts it under the broiler.

Maya with her completed Sweet Potato Pie

3.  On the kids' dinner plates, there are a variety of foods
     Whenever I try a new recipe, I always add a couple other things to their plate.  I usually include some fruit and some other protein like cheese.  This way, if they absolutely do not like their meal then they have other options to eat without having to go hungry to ask me for something else to eat.

4.  No complaining!
    Now, sometimes this is a tough one...but it is a rule we really enforce!  It's such an important one because all it takes is for one child to say "I don't like this, this is gross..." to make every single child at the table refuse to eat that food.  So, in our house, if you don't like something, you just move on to the next food on your plate and mom will get the hint ;)

5.   Don't assume the kids won't eat it!
      I used to always shy away from foods that contained any strong spices, strange vegetables or cuts of meat.  I assumed my kids would NOT like it.  At one point, my kids would not eat anything with "green things floating in it" things being parsley, basil, spinach...anything!  I read somewhere that you may have to introduce a new food 12 times before your child will try it.  This is something I do regularly.  Let me tell you that my perseverance has paid off because lo and behold my kids now eat those green floating things!  It also turned out that the more variety I included in my cooking, the more my kids would try new things.  I have really committed to cooking from scratch for most, if not all, meals during the week.  I credit my favorite cookbook for making that a possibility for me when time is a precious commodity.

A pediatrician once told me to never make eating an argument with your kids because it is one you will always lose.  Offer healthy foods, get rid of the junk and give your children the benefit of trying new foods.

Linked at: raising olives button


  1. This is such a great post! I had those food struggles with a couple of my children when they were young. Now, my daughter is dealing with this with her children. I'm going to send her a link to this post. Thanks and have a great week!

  2. Great advice! I love the photos of your girls helping out with cooking and preparation. They look so proud! :-)

  3. Thanks for this post. I can use all the help I can get to get my girls to eat more than fruit and chicken nuggets. I like the idea of getting rid of processed foods, but it really seems intimidating to me. Sincerely- krisa...the woman who just finished eating a donut for breakfast! Yikes!

  4. I am struggling with Alex and food right now. He also has a strong gag reflex which has led to some dinnertime drama when I insist that he try a new food (or an old one, again). I am trying some of your ideas already. We just went to the farmer's market this weekend and bought some asparagus. He ate up several pieces, declaring that he only liked the tops. I guess the tops are better than none at all. We are also strictly enforcing the no complaining rule.

  5. Get rid of all the processed food? Yikes! We deal with a lot of food drama with my oldest and I have a tendency to keep things like chicken nuggets on hand for those busy days. Maybe it's time to cut that safety cord and go all the way!

  6. Carrie KrusemarkMay 21, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    This is a great post. :) I just read French Kids Eat Everything from the library - she moved to France with two picky eaters - and she found many of the same things that you did. One other main one was no snacking - so that they are hungry at mealtimes. Hopefully by using switching some things up around here, I'll get my kids to eat more variety. Now, if I could only find something to work for my husband! :)

  7. Carrie, we also use set times for snack and meals. We eat breakfast at around 7:30am and then their first snack is at 10am. This works well for us because the morning is when we "do school" and if we don't have a set time for snack then they ask for food the whole morning! I'd like to check out that book...I've read articles about it before! Thanks for visiting and keep us posted if these techniques work for your husband too!

  8. I actually watched a program on how they make chicken nuggets and what meat actually goes into them. If you need a nudge to get rid of them...look up how they are made! You can actually make your own breaded chicken strips with Panko breadcrumbs and chicken cutlets. Cook them up and freeze them for easy homemade chicken tenders!

  9. Wow! Asparagus! That is great! That is usually a tough veggie for kids to want to try! I say you're doing a great job. I love summer for the farmers markets...the vegetables taste SO MUCH better when they are picked locally and in season. The perfect time for kids to try them!

  10. I'm so happy you liked the post. Once you get into a groove of cooking and trying new foods you won't feel so bad about ditching the processed food. You'll actually FEEL better and notice your kids will be healthier too! It was after a bad winter of flu after flu after flu in our family that I totally ditched the convenience foods and decided to cook things myself. We noticed a huge difference very quickly!

  11. Thank you Lisa! The girls are pretty sweet when they help me out. That sweet potato pie is actually their favorite food. They will eat an entire 9x13 pan of it in 2 days...all by themselves. I'll have to post the recipe to your blog!

  12. Thank you Debbie! I hope the suggestions help your daughter with her picky eaters! I know from experience how frustrating it is. Thanks for reading :)

  13. I stopped buying Chicken Nuggets a few months ago because I defaulted to them every time. However, I have allowed PBJ if it's a meal that Iknow they won't like. I guess I need to stop doing that too!!! I remember when I was young we all ate the same thing (no special kids meals) and we ate what was on our plate. It really wasn't okay to despise a food, but if we tried and didn't like (or the smell made us gag-for me it was mushrooms, and still is)my mom would'nt put it on our plate. So your ideas def work- I need to stick to it! Thanks!