This post is all about tips for making your child a more adventurous eater. My kids are like most kids. If you give them a choice, dinner is most definitely, “dad’s hamburgers” (which are delicious) and fries. They love their sweets and salty snacks (we call my 8 yr. old son the “Chip monster”) and they don’t always eat their vegetables without some prodding. However, on the whole my kids (ages 5 and 8) are now adventurous eaters and will pretty much eat whatever is put in front of them. I have talked to a lot of parents who are frustrated with their children’s eating habits and pickiness. I am in NO way an expert, and every child is different, but here are a few tips that I use to encourage my kids to eat outside the box! (or inside the bento box, ha!)
Six Tips for Encouraging Your Child to Be a More Adventurous Eater
1) Make it a Character – One of my most effective methods for encouraging veggie consumption is turning an after school snack into a character. The crazier the better. I will use cheese for a nose, cut green olives with pimento in half for eyes, cucumber slices for curly hair, apple slices for ears, bell peppers for the mouth….you get the idea. I mix it up with whatever I have on hand. The outcome is always the same though, they eat it ALL!
2) Don’t Make it Too “Kid Friendly” – I see all these recipes for “sneaking” vegetables into recipes. I understand the concept and hey, we definitely puree spinach into smoothies. But on the whole, I don’t think its wise to “dumb” down food for kids. The whole point is for them to get to know and love ingredients. The one caveat is spice levels. Children on the whole are sensitive to spice so I always make my food more mild. I add chilies or Siracha etc. to the adults’ dishes after the meal is served. My kids become more adventurous the more foods they try. As with anything new, it can take some time to get used to new foods. Don’t give up if they don’t like something. Its often takes my kids several tries to come around. I’ve been putting salad on my daughter’s plate for years. A few weeks ago she announced she “loves salad!!” – Miracles exist!
Also, on this point – I know many people make separate meals for their kids. When they are super young that make sense. But, at a certain point (and its different for everyone), your child should be eating what you eat. They should not have the idea that there is “kid food” vs. “adult food”. The goal is that its just “food” that we all eat!
3) Get Your Kids Cooking With You – Many of us parents want to involve our kids in the kitchen. But let’s face it, with kids involved it takes longer and is a much messier process. The other night I let my eight year old pour the lentils into the Instant Pot. Needless to say, he missed. It was a mess, but he loved doing the Instant Pot locking mechanism and pressing the button. There was no complaint from him when the soup made its way to the table. My daughter is more interested in cooking than my son, and I have found she’s really good at measuring and adding ingredients. In some ways its also a math and science lesson! Sometimes I’ll set up a little area with all the ingredients out so that its easy for my five year old to do the entire thing herself.
4) Be Flexible but Firm – I am in the camp that sometimes it takes some pressure to get the food into the mouth. That cookie is definitely not getting eaten until at least half the plate is done. I have seen some articles about how this approach isn’t a good way to get kids eating food and can sabotage it in the long run. As a parent, you have to make that decision. I’ve found that many times my kids have assumptions about food before they even get it in their mouth. My daughter groans half the time I tell her what we’re having for dinner, then afterwards, she’s all smiles and announces it was great. The bottom line is that I am responsible for the health and well-being of my kids. Its important to me that my kids get nutrition, so its worth it to me to have them groan a bit, but then eat their food.
5) Make a Bento Box – I don’t always have the time, but when I make my children lunch in a bento box style lunch container, they love it! I think it reminds them of “Lunchables” – but healthier. Sometimes I’ll do hummus, cut veggies, apple slices, and turkey and chees roll ups. You can also do mini salads, pasta, rice and veggies and more. Here are some cute ideas for bento boxes. https://www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/bento-box-lunches/
6) Experience Foods from Different Cultures – You don’t have to travel to experience difference cuisines, (but its fun when you can). I like to talk to my kids about different types of foods, like Thai, Italian etc. I have an extensive cookbook collection, but there are so many fun recipes available online for different types of food from around the world. When we were recently in Costa Rica the kids loved trying the local Tico plates of rice and beans and chicken. Trying different spices, fruits and vegetables are an exciting way to get to know the world better, and ultimately help your child to become a more adventurous eater.