To simplify my tips about how to get children to eat, I’ve compiled a list (a long one with details, but a list nonetheless!) for quick, easy referencing! That way, nobody has to reread an entire entry in order to remember a point. And to simplify further, the list runs in order of how we reach the meal–essentially, from farm to table!
1. We are more likely to eat what we had a hand in creating.
Have your kids help you pick out produce at the store. Show them which food items you need to buy and let them pick it up and/or put it in the bag. Even let them choose food they’d like to buy (remember, I said produce, not cookies).
Additionally, grow your own food and include the family in the process, sowing/planting, watering, harvesting. It doesn’t have to feel like a chore; it can be something really fun, especially when your children (and you!) see that you are the reason this is growing. Plus, it’ll save some money on your grocery bill! Tip…planting can be easier than sowing seeds and you can start small–look up plants that are easy to grow, such as ones in pots (herbs, tomatoes, peppers).
Let your kids help plan the meal (once they’re old enough to not say they want ice cream for dinner and actually plan a real meal with you).
Have your kids help prepare the meal, washing, chopping, adding ingredients to the bowl/pan/pot, mixing, plating, serving.
2. Hungry children eat better than full children.
This one is easy, make sure your kid is hungry at meal time. Nix the snacks, they don’t need them! If you do let them snack, make sure it’s not too close to dinner time. My guideline is my daughter can have a snack two hours before dinner. If she seems like she’s starting to get crabby from hunger and I don’t want her to skip dinner due to being too crabby to behave and eat, I’ll let her have a very small snack, such as three animal crackers, a small bowl of berries (most fruit isn’t filling), or a small plate of raw vegetables (which are at least as healthy as the meal I’m making).
If your kid isn’t hungry, why would she give into eating dinner, especially if it’s not something she really wants?
3. Offer the same foods regularly so your child is used to eating it.
Just because you have a great eater at age 1 or even age 2 doesn’t mean you’ll have one at 3 or any other age. If you’re not consistent about serving a food to a child so young, it can easily be forgotten and, in that case, it’s suddenly new and suspicious to your three-year-old. If your want your child to like something for life, make sure you keep it in the rotation, at least once monthly! You can change up the way you make it, but just make sure it ends up on your child’s plate often enough for her to remember that she likes it.
4. Children want what we have and are more likely to participate in something that we’re participating in.
Serve your child the same thing that you’re eating. Better yet, eat whatever you want your child to eat. They’re more likely to eat their food if you’re eating the same thing at the same time.
When I want G to eat a banana, I open one and start eating it in front of her. Not only that, I talk to myself about it, “Oh wow, this is a really yummy banana. Mmm!!” I pay no attention to my daughter so it doesn’t look like I’m trying to get her to do something, I act immersed in the deliciousness of what I want her to eat.
When G is eating something and offers me a bite, I take it regardless of whether I want to.
You can only expect as much from your child as you are willing to do, yourself. If you’re not going to eat it, why should she? Which is more reason to expand your own palate because “Do as I say, not as I do” is completely ineffective for a 3-year-old.
5. Children respond better to other children than they do to adults.
Act the same age as your child. I can’t begin to tell you how well this works for me. I’ll sit with G, same food on my plate as hers, pick up a piece of broccoli on my fork and say “Wow! That’s a BIG broccoli! LOOK AT THAT BROCCOLI! It’s real big!” And then make a show of eating it and delighting in it. I’ll pick up a tiny piece of sweet potato and say “Aw look at that, it’s a baby one! Look at that tiny potato!” and eat it. I’ll even ask if she has one, “Do you have a big broccoli!?” “Do you have a baby potato?” Quickly enough, she’ll be searching her plate for one to match mine, exclaiming about it’s size and eating it, especially the big ones. Kids love anything that’s “more,” you know? Similarly, I might exclaim about color, “Look at my muesli, it’s pink!! Wow! Look at all that pink! Oh, I found a big red raspberry, look at that!”
Don’t be afraid to drop to their level for certain occasions 🙂 Even better, if you know of a child who eats well, get together with that family for a meal because your child is highly likely to be influenced by the other.
6. If they think you’ll give them whatever they want later, they’ll skip the meal.
If your child rejects dinner, don’t give into the desperation of not having a “starving” kid. Donot give them something else to eat later; at the least, don’t give them something unhealthy to eat later. They’re smart, they’ll realize they don’t have to eat dinner and will still get cookies in an hour. Hold firm, tell your children they have to eat what the rest of the family is eating and actually follow through.
7. Remain Neutral
A lot of times, children think it’s funny when we get mad. Have you ever had your kid smile at you when you start scolding them? They love attention and will absolutely take it in a negative form. It’s generally not as effective as remaining emotionless, yet firm. Don’t give them the ammunition that is your emotions.
8. When all else fails, trick them.
Check out my tricks for sneaking in the good stuff on the next page 🙂