Seven Meal-Time Tips for Picky Preschoolers

Healthy Eating Habits Start Young

Our time around the table is not exactly the picture of calm and quiet. With four little sprouts nestled in around the table, Mr. Green Thumb and I have our work cut out for us; we are continuously encouraging pleases and thank yous, and other meal-time etiquette (such as, no feet on the table; no dogs on the table; don’t stab your brother with your fork; you get the idea!) We love talking with our kids about their days, and sharing about ours.

While we want our children to learn manners, we try to be relaxed and enjoy the antics and happy chatter that happen around the table. Occasionally though, one of the kids decides the food on the table is a bust, and pulls out the crocodile tears in protest. With swift and decisive action, said child goes straight to a time-out. Are we meanies? you might be wondering. I don’t think so at all. Manners, among other things, means there is no complaining about the food set in front of us.

Since enforcing this time-out rule, we have seen much less overt complaining, but it can still be a challenge for little mouths to try unfamiliar, even scary looking foods (a.k.a. something smothered in sauce). Here are a few other ways we encourage the sprouts to eat their meals.

Our kids rarely get juice to drink, but when trying something unfamiliar, or less than their favorite, we pull out a can of organic, no sugar added “fuzzy juice” for something the kids have dubbed, Drink Bites. Simply put, every time they take a bite of food, they get to have one drink of juice. Yes, they have tried the tiny bite, and the guzzle of juice, so we monitor this. But now that it’s familiar, they are pretty good about taking a regular sized bite, and a regular sized drink. We also remind them to take Dinosaur Bites (which could be any large animal your kids are inspired by), instead of the itsy-bitsy bites they might try to get away with.

“How much do I have to eat?” It’s almost certain we hear this question at least once every time we have a meal. To keep it simple and consistent we remind them of Age Bites. However old they are is how many bites of a certain food they need to eat. We don’t enforce this every time, or sit and count out each child’s bites. If one of the sprouts is having a hard time eating a certain food, we usually ask them how old they are, and they get the point; that is how many more bites they need to eat.

If I know a texture or flavor is really going to throw the kids off, such as a salad, or a curry, we ask the kids to only try one bite, and we call this the Thankful Bite (which I first heard from my B-I-L). Friends of ours recently told us that they do this as the First Bitetheir kids are required to take only one bite, but it’s their first bite. After that, they can eat any of the other foods that are on their plate. That being said, I don’t make meals entirely to please only adult palates. There are usually options for everyone, like sauce on top or beside, even though we are all eating the same meal.
We also do something we’ve dubbed Guess the Bite. The kids close their eyes, and we put one or two foods onto their fork and feed it to them. They try to guess which combination of food they are eating. They often peek, and they almost always know what they are eating. But for some reason, turning it into a little game can make a new or different food a little more palatable.

Fun Name Bites are a fun way to get your kids chomping on certain foods. Our soft boiled eggs are lava eggs; cherry tomatoes have been dubbed roaring tomatoes (Because they look like a dinosaur egg. And yes, they get to roar when they eat one… but only at home!) And most any veggie is a super veggie, because it helps our kids run super fast.
Finally, Condiments  seem to make everything taste better to kids. Whether it is ketchup, sweet and sour sauce, or something else, if this makes it easier for the kids to eat their dinners, we are ok with it. New York strip-loin cooked medium rare, with ketchup? You bet! Because I know that the kids will outgrow the condiments, just like we all did. And what will be left is a variety of foods that they are familiar with, and enjoy eating.

Often, once the kids start to eat, no matter how much complaining ensued before hand, they eat most everything on their plates. If not, we don’t worry though. The most important thing is that they are learning to try new foods and flavors, and are learning to appreciate the things they have, and keep the complaining to a minimum. And like most adults, who get a bit munchy in the evenings, our kids never go to bed hungry; they always get the option of a bowl of yogurt or fruit before they turn down for the night.

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