It can be frustrating if your child refuses to eat the food you've prepared. For many parents, it can go past frustrating to downright concerning, causing worries about proper nutrition. While every child is different, some of your fellow moms have discovered tips and tricks to get kids to eat the food you make — and they work. By convincing your little one to eat the meal in front of them, you can let yourself sleep easy knowing your child isn't hungry (or going without any nutrients).
One thing to note, however, is that there is a difference between being a "picky eater" and a child with a feeding disorder. Rachel Hicks, a speech language pathologist, says that children may have difficulties with meal time due to issues that go beyond simply being picky or stubborn. "Speech language pathologists work with children who have feeding difficulties due to a variety of reasons including sensory issues, muscle issues — such as low tone or weakness — and motor difficulties," Hicks tells Romper.
"There is a difference between a typical picky eater and a child with feeding disorders which is more serious and usually needs intervention from a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist who specializes in feeding therapy," she adds. While the following tips are a great starting point, it's crucial to realize that children with feeding disorders benefit greatly from feeding therapy.
But for run of the mill "picky eating" problems, here are some mom-tested ways to encourage them to eat up.
1. Involve Them In Grocery Shopping
For Ann Leeke, mother of three boys, one of the best tricks is to get them involved in the process before you even begin preparing a meal. "Our trick is letting them pick the fruits and vegetables out at the store. Then they want to eat what they picked," Leeke tells Romper.
2. Don't Make Them A Separate Meal
If your child knows they can get an Option B every time Option A doesn't 100-percent please them, they'll abuse it. For Rio White's daughter, another meal is simply never an option. "Ezra eats what we eat, and if not, we take her plate away until she is hungry enough to finish! Picky isn’t allowed, and we definitely will never make separate meals," White tells Romper.
3. Let Them Help You Prepare Their Meals
Need a sous chef? Involving your child in the cooking process can get better results than simply plopping a plate down in front of them. "Having them help me cook their food helps with them wanting to at least try it," says Rachel Earley, mama of two. "They want to see what their 'creations' taste like."
4. Limit Their Options
If you know that there are a few meals they'll eat without a problem, don't hesitate to keep those in regular rotation. For Lauren Hara, mom of twin girls, sticking to the tried and true meals that her girls like and request is a no-brainer. "I just make what they like. It’s like with their clothes — as young kids they only get to make few choices, so I don’t force it," Hara tells Romper.
5. Cut Their Food Into Fun Shapes
I'm 28 years old and I still get a kick out of eating things in unexpected shapes — is that weird? Kids are the same way, and are more likely to eat certain foods if they're aesthetically-pleasing. "Kids will eat almost anything if it’s in fun shapes. This is a lifesaver for getting them to eat vegetables, trust me," Michelle Remillard tells Romper.
6. Give Foods Cool Nicknames
You can change the perception of a certain food in other ways, too. For Megan Covert, it's all about making the food seem cooler than it actually is. "A PB sandwich is called a karate chop sandwich. It's a PB sandwich cut diagonally. I would tell him that I hand-chopped it myself to add extra value to it," Covert tells Romper. Who wouldn't eat a karate chopped sandwich?
7. Mix Familiar Foods With New Foods
Just like adults, sometimes it's easier for kids to handle one change, or new experience, at a time. For picky eaters, it may be easier to introduce new foods slowly, rather than serving them a giant plate of multiple things they've never seen before. "I provide three options: two familiar foods that I’m pretty sure they like, and one new or different food," says Mary Kay Nickels.
Another way to introduce new foods is by putting it in to something that is already child-approved. "Mixing things into pasta or adding cheese helps a lot, too," shares mom Lauren McDonough.
8. Trick Them
If you're giving your child something that will help them grow big and healthy, is it really even a trick? Danielle Hansen performs a quick switcheroo to get her children to eat their veggies, and you can't argue with success. "You get a piece of pizza and put it up to their mouth, and slide them the spoonful of peas instead," Burt tells Romper.
9. Give Them A Mandatory Bite Count
Telling your child how many bites they need to take is a classic method, but Jenna Centofante, teacher and coach, has a specific method in the way she does it. "I used to tell my class they had to try at least so many 'big kid' bites before they could tell me they didn’t like it. Depending on the age depended on the bites. If they were 3, they had three bites and once they turned 4, they advanced," she tells Romper.
10. Make Them Feel In Control
If a child feels like they're calling the shots — even if they really aren't — it motivates them to eat the food in front of them. "What I’ve found works for [my son] is to make food his idea or make him feel in control. He loves trying to use a fork, so he will eat almost anything we put on a fork. He also is a lot more likely to eat something that he asks for or grabs himself," says McDonough to Romper.
11. Teach Them About Waste
If your child doesn't eat the meal you've prepared for them, they shouldn't be asking for snacks a little later. By teaching them to take what they're given, if they are hungry, they'll learn for the future. "When [my kids] are done eating, they dump their own plates — that way when they ask for a snack later and they hardly ate their supper, we always point out that they shouldn’t have dumped their plates if their bellies weren’t full," says Earley to Romper.