The Picky Eater Challenge: Just Try This

By Shannon Sarna

For many families, getting kids (and even co-parents) to eat healthful food can be a challenge. Every person has different food preferences, aversions and even allergies, all of which can make dinnertime a chore instead of a pleasure. Some kids have texture issues, or a general fear of trying new things.

We have always been lucky that our kids, so far, are good eaters. Pooh-pooh. When my older daughter doesn’t want to try something I respond: just try it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. Most of the time she ends up liking it, and of course sometimes she doesn’t. I don’t force the issue – just encourage her to have an open mind. 

Another way we have tried to encourage healthy eating is how we discuss food. Chips, cookies, snacks and ice cream are labeled “sometimes foods,” and I emphasize that while our taste buds like them, they aren’t good for our body to be healthy and strong. Apples, cucumber, broccoli, yogurt – these foods make our body healthy, happy and strong. I still let my kids have sweets and snacks in moderation, but I want them to understand that food isn’t here just to taste good: it also fuels our lives and health.  

And while some families may not be able to do this due to food allergies, I don’t cook anything different for my kids than I cook for the adults in my home. I involve my daughters and set a family menu each week on Sunday, and that’s what everyone eats: mom, dad, kids, and sometimes even our dogs, when they are lucky enough to find scraps on the floor.

But if your kids aren’t natural good or adventurous eaters, what can you do? I have a found a few things to help. The truth is, these rules for “kids” really apply to anyone, young or old.

Make It Taste Good
No one wants to eat bland vegetables or tasteless food in general, so make sure your vegetables and dishes are seasoned well. It doesn’t have to be salty. Flavor comes from lots of different kinds of ingredients, like fresh herbs, citrus, spices, olive oil or butter (a little goes a long way!) and, yes, a bit of salt and pepper, too. I also believe that roasting vegetables simply with salt, pepper and olive oil is the most delicious way to enjoy them: a little crispy, a lot caramelized and pretty simple to prepare. 

Sharing Is Caring
Let your kid try anything they want off your plate. They are more likely to try new things, and maybe even like them, if they see you are eating them and that you are willing to share. 

Make It Convenient
This rule requires extra work from a parent or other adult, but the work can truly pay off: cut up all your fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the week. Have melon, grapes and other fruit washed, sliced and ready to go in containers so that when snack time comes, a healthful choice is just a grab away. Same goes for cut-up veggies or even your greens —  the more prep work you can do ahead of time will encourage everyone to make healthier choices when it’s go time. Short on time? Buy pre-cut fruit and veggies in your produce section. 

Make It Fun and Interactive 
Fact: Kids love dipping stuff. (Another fact: I love dipping stuff). So let your kids choose their dip of choice (or several) and serve them up on a big platter with cut-up veggies like celery, carrots, bell peppers or blanched asparagus spears with ranch dressing, hummus, Greek yogurt dip, salsa or — gasp — cheese sauce (especially when it’s made with pumpkin or squash like this one). 

Take it a step further —  bring your kids to the grocery store or farmer’s market to pick out their own vegetables. I find that when my daughter sees the bright colors, she is more inclined to try new things. After all, who can resist purple string beans!? 

Make It Colorful 
Speaking of color, adults aren’t the only ones who eat with our eyes — your kids also want to be enticed to eat something colorful and appealing. We don’t all have a ton of time to make elaborate pancake shapes or veggie sculptures, but we can plate things nicely to make it just a touch more appetizing.

Buy Fresh & Local (As much as you can)
I realize that buying fresh, local vegetables is more expensive and also sometimes more difficult when you are a busy parent with an already harried schedule. But fresh vegetables are healthier and just taste better, so give your kids the best chance at actually enjoying the veggies you serve them as much as your time and budget will allow. If budget is a concern, frozen vegetables are great — they are frozen at peak, cost-effective and you can have them on hand pretty much all the time. 

And if do have the time and access to local farms, take your kids, so they gain an understanding of where food comes from and how much work is involved in growing their dinner. 

Put It in Some Soup 
Soup is the ideal vehicle for lots of vegetables and grains. And it’s an easy enough dinner to throw together on busy weeknights. Add some store-bought, low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock in a pot, veggies, canned beans, and alphabet soup pasta (or quinoa or brown rice), and you have a kid-friendly and delicious meal. 

Recipes to Try:
Classic Shakshuka from Hadassah
Kale Chips from The Nosher
Hidden Veggie Chicken with Rice from Buzzfeed
Steamed Cauliflower with Cheesy Pumpkin Sauce from Kveller.com
Vegetable Soup with Pasta from Babble
Pumpkin Swiss Chard Mac & Cheese from Kveller.com
Vegetarian Mexican Lasagna from Kveller.com
Whole Wheat Zucchini Banana Bread from The Nosher

Shannon Sarna is Hadassah's food guru and the spokesperson for Every Bite Counts: Hadassah's Nutrition Program. She is editor of The Nosher, and her writing and recipes have been featured in Tablet Magazine, JTA News, The Jewish Week, Joy of Kosher Magazine and Buzzfeed. "Modern Jewish Baker: Challah, Babka, Bagels & More," her new book, was released in September 2017.

For more tips for families, see this Every Bite Counts Cheat Sheet: Eat Better with Your Kids.

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