Picky eating is just another part of growing up. Some children will eat whatever is on their plate, while others are steadfast refusers of food that doesn’t taste good. Instead of giving into the temptation of arguing with your child and turning meals into fights, you can employ techniques approved by the Montessori preschool in Winnetka, where children are taught curriculum through hands-on activities.
- Serve “yucky” foods differently
Some foods are an acquired taste. Until your child can stomach eating a full broccoli stalk or a whole cherry tomato, serve them in soups, sauces, purees, or couple them with food that already tastes good. Add salted bacon slivers on top of green peas, a swipe of butter over steamed corn on a cob, or a drizzle of savory Italian dressing on a broccoli head. You can dazzle your child’s taste buds with salads mixed with pineapple chunks, apple slices, and halved grapes.
- Make meals a family event
If your child doesn’t like the meal you’ve prepared for the family, don’t make them another dish. This reinforces their picky eating habits and portrays you as an easy obstacle to getting what they want. Make only one meal for the family, but with a variety of foods so your child still gets a balanced meal even if they don’t like all the ingredients.
- Have your child help with food prep
Take your child to the grocery store to help pick out the best-looking vegetables and fruits. Ask them to choose from healthy recipes for the day’s lunch or dinner, and let them help you prepare the meals. Your child will be curious to taste the meal they’ve helped prepare, and possibly enjoy it. If they find the meal too bland, you can suggest healthy additions to the next time they prepare the same meal, such as adding a side of fresh fruit or sprinkling dried cranberries on top.
- Avoid power struggles by offering decisions
Don’t encourage your child to eat through threats or bribery. These tactics only work in the short-term and turn against you in the long-run. Your child’s dislike of certain foods will be reinforced, and they’ll associate bribery with “prize” food and success. Instead, offer them a variety of foods to choose from—all of which are foods you’d want them to eat. This puts them in the decision chair and doesn’t make eating feel like a punishment. This is also a great way to introduce your child to self-regulation.
- Don’t use dessert or sweets as a reward
In addition to not bribing your child, you don’t want them to associate finishing meals with getting dessert. This teaches them to see healthy foods only as a means to getting the real prize: unhealthy but yummy foods. Too much dessert will also strengthen your child’s sweet tooth and make it harder for them to say no. To establish healthy eating habits, only have one or two dessert nights a week. Serve desserts that aren’t extremely unhealthy, such as sweet potato tea cake.
Valor Montessori Prep’s mission is to instill independence and self-confidence into children 3 to 6 years old. Contact us to learn more about our curriculum and education programs.