Do you have any picky eaters in your life? Whether it's in your classroom, in speech sessions, or at home, picky eaters can be quite tricky! As someone who loves using cooking activities with kids, I have come across my fair share of picky eaters. Today I'm sharing my top 7 tips for encouraging picky eaters to branch out!
Addressing Picky Eating Habits
I remember when my son Landon was little, he would give me a serious run for my money when it came time to trying new foods (especially the healthy ones!) If you're sitting at the dinner table, this could be a serious face-off! Or maybe you are experiencing this in the classroom at snack time or during your cooking activities.
If you're looking for new and creative ways to encourage your young eaters, I have some great tips to get you started!
1. Cook With Kids
My number one, BEST tip for helping children step away from picky eating habits is to cook with them. If you know me, this probably won't come as a surprise, since I'm all about using my Visual Recipe Cards for Kids!
Cooking with children or making food "crafts" is a great way to expose them to new foods and flavors. I love using visual recipes in speech sessions or classrooms but they are also perfect for using at home with your own littles.
Involving children in the cooking process will help to spark their interest in new fruits, vegetables, and dishes they may have never tried before. In my experience, children are often MUCH more eager to try new foods when they get to help prepare them as well.
2. Switch It Up!
Sometimes all you need to do to encourage children to try new foods is change the presentation.
If you're working with picky eaters who don't like fruits or vegetables, try switching up the presentation.
For example, instead of presenting strawberry slices, try making a smoothie with strawberries.
Same fruit but prepared a little differently!
You could also try adding peanut butter to celery sticks, serving vegetables with a dipping sauce, or layering vegetables on an English muffin pizza.
Any of these options would be a great way to present familiar foods in a new, exciting way.
3. Create A Routine
Most kids thrive with a routine, so this is especially important when it comes to picky eaters!
Creating consistency is a valuable tool when helping your picky eaters learn to try new things. If children know that snack time is a mid-morning occurrence every single day, they can begin to anticipate this time and will mentally prepare and expect new foods to be presented to them.
Just because you're making a routine doesn't mean snack time needs to be boring though! Make it fun for your kiddos by creating a visual schedule filled with pictures or turning the room into a "restaurant" during eating times. Building in some fun around your routines will help children learn to look forward to meals, meal prep, and snack time.
4. Encourage Picky Eaters
This tip is one of the most important overall! It's key to encourage children to explore new foods, over and over again. Encourage children to use their senses to explore new foods and discuss what they notice.
Ask children to smell, touch, describe, and taste new foods. This tactic is especially helpful in a group setting when you have other children participating in the conversation.
If you're working one on one, be sure to offer your own observations and descriptions of the foods to help encourage your picky eater!
5. Be Creative
This tip might be my favorite and I know lots of kiddos who would probably agree! When it comes to working with picky eaters, creativity is a great way to encourage children to branch out.
I love using kid-friendly cookie cutters to cut fruits, vegetables, cheese, and bread into fun shapes. You can use alphabet letters, animals, 2D shapes, and more. This small touch always has a big impact on children when it comes to building excitement around new foods!
6. Play With Food!
I know, this was always a big no-no when we were kids, but I truly believe that using food in play is a great way to encourage those picky eaters! When I say play, you could try having your kids use their hands to manipulate new foods during cooking sessions.
Ask them to roll, cut, smell, and taste their foods as they work. Children can practice ordering food pieces by size, sorting by color, or arranging them on a plate. Allowing children to explore and play with their food is a great way to spark some curiosity and prompt those picky eaters to take a bite!
7. Offer Choices
Have you ever made the mistake of asking a picky eater if they would like to try something?
Typically, if we ask those children if they would like to try a new vegetable for snack, the answer is often a big NO!
To remedy this, try offering choices to your picky eater.
For example, rather than saying, "Do you want carrots or broccoli for a snack?", ask "Which one would you like for snack: carrots or broccoli?".
This simple wording switch will let your picky eater know they need to make a choice, instead of declining BOTH of the options.
Putting These Tips Into Action With Picky Eaters
Now that you have all these tips, you may be wondering how this looks in action. If you're just getting started cooking with your picky eaters, I recommend using some kid-friendly recipes like my Visual Recipe Cards for Kids. This resource uses full-color cards with pictures to help your picky eaters see what's coming next in the activity.
When you use Visual Recipes, have children participate in the activity by "reading" the card, and identifying the ingredients and tools. Involving children as much as possible in your cooking activity is the key to helping those picky eaters come out of their shells and try new foods.
Verbalize to your children that trying new foods is a chance to find a new favorite! Above all, use patience and remember to have fun.
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