20 Creative Ways To Stop Mealtime BattlesKids are picky eaters. That’s a fact. From ever-changing appetites, to sudden food aversions, to all-out refusal to try anything new...there’s always something that’s bound to cause a mealtime battle.
Kids are picky eaters. That’s a fact. From ever-changing appetites, to sudden food aversions, to all-out refusal to try anything new...there’s always something that’s bound to cause mealtime battles. It can be even trickier when you have multiple kids with differing food preferences, or a busy schedule that prevents you from catering to everyone’s individual needs. And let’s face it, as a parent, you shouldn’t have to be a short order cook. Mealtimes can be fun, but it might just take a little extra patience and creativity on your end!
Meal times don't have to be a battleground for making your child eat healthy food. Kids learn through experience and you can make these meals a delightful way to make a healthy eater out of them.
As a parent, you definitely want your child to be having healthy meals. Kids, however, being picky eaters, are naturally adept at picking out every slightest bit of green they see on their plate.
No matter what your child’s food issues are, there are plenty of ways to ensure that your little one is prepared for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. It’s totally normal for young children to be skeptical about trying new foods, but that doesn’t mean you should give up if you don’t succeed at first. Be consistent, stay positive, and prepare your child’s taste buds for all possibilities.
Not sure how to be more creative in the kitchen? Here are some simple ideas to get you started:
1. Give your child choices.
Instead of plopping a vegetable onto her plate, give your child a say in the matter by giving her a choice between a few options. For example, you could ask, “Would you like to have roasted cauliflower or grilled zucchini tonight?” Or you can even give your child a few different servings options for the same food. For example, you could ask if he would like broccoli rice, or raw broccoli with ranch.
The key is to make choices but keep the choices within the healthy food category. Your kid would definitely pick chicken nuggets over vegetable fritters, so you might as well eliminate that and only give healthy food options.
2. Focus on the “big picture” food facts.
Shift your focus from telling your kids over and over that it’s important to eat chicken because it has protein, or that potatoes are better than potato chips because they’re lower in fat and calories. Instead, emphasize things that actually matter to kids, like the fact that carrots can make them have super eyesight, or that bread and cereal can give them an energy boost to play longer and run faster, or that milk and dairy will help them have healthy bones to grow to be big and strong.
This will avoid you to force feed them into eating healthy foods. Do your research on certain foods and be as creative as possible to encourage them. Talk to them in a matter-of-factly way that your children learn the benefits of eating healthy while having fun.
3. Let your kids help in the kitchen.
You can find a lot of great cooking utensils for kids online and in stores. Plenty of companies make kid-safe knives, and even younger toddlers can help with plastic measuring cups, spoons, and whisks. Young toddlers can help wash produce for salads. Let your kids help you with meal preparation, and you might just be surprised that they’re more willing to eat things they’ve helped prepare.
Kids eat pretend meals during playtime and isn't it wonderful, especially for them, if they eat the food they prepared for real?
4. Choose toppings wisely.
It never hurt anyone to add a little cheese to broccoli, a little honey to cooked carrots, or use dips for raw vegetables. It’s ok to use toppings to mask the flavors of foods your children refuse to try. Eventually, they might learn to love the foods on their own, but at least this gives them a solid first step in enjoying a new food!
A picky eater might prefer the same food over and over, so why not add that food as topping to a variety of fruit or vegetable every meal time so the child eats what he or she likes and still learn to adapt to eating healthy over time. It's a win win!
5. Make mealtime fun.
Try serving a traditional meal in a new way. For example, you can do a make-you-own-pasta-dish night by boiling a few different types of noodles, heating up a few different sauces, and sauteing different vegetables and meats to use as topping options. Then let your kids serve themselves!
"Playing" with your children, even on mealtimes is a good way of helping parents bond with their children while avoiding the unpleasant experience of mealtime battles.
6. Remember the power of snacks.
Another fun meal idea is to create a “charcuterie board” for your kids. Slice up a few different types of cheeses, lay out several different kinds of meats, add some crackers and fresh fruit slices, and you’ve got an awesome snack tray meal idea!
Snacks are also an ideal way of alleviating picky eating in kids. Because snack time is fun, they usually don't notice the introduction of healthy food during snack time more than they do at dinner time.
7. Try a cooking kit.
There are several companies that make cooking kits for kids, and this can be a fun way to explore new foods or new cuisines together with your child. From international food adventures to covering the basics, there’s sure to be a cooking subscription box perfect for your child.
8. Try smoothies.
If your child turns up her nose at certain fruits or vegetables, try serving them in a smoothie instead! Raw kale or spinach is delicious blended with bananas, milk, peanut butter, or almond butter!
9. Play a guessing game.
Blindfold your child, and ask her to smell, touch, and taste certain foods, one at a time. This can be a lot of fun for children! If your child is hesitant to play, you can go first!
10. Make your own pizza night.
Most kids love pizza, but starting with a basic pizza and then letting your kids experiment with toppings can be a great way to encourage trying new foods. You can give them out-of-the-box topping options, such as cheddar cheese, pineapple chunks, diced chicken, barbecue sauce, fresh basil, and more!
11. Experiment with spices.
You can add nutmeg or cinnamon to oatmeal, garlic or basil to roasted vegetables, cumin or red pepper flakes to hummus, mint to fresh peas, and dill to Greek yogurt!
12. Grow your own food.
Gardening can be a great skill for kids to learn. There are many herbs that are easy to grow indoors. If you’re up for starting an outdoor garden, try planting some tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, berries, or mint.
13. Learn the art of compromise.
You don’t want to overwhelm or discourage your child when it comes to eating. A good rule of thumb is no matter what the meal plan is, always include one food you know your child will eat. And then it’s up to him what he does with the rest of the options.
14. Make “chips.”
You can make your own chips at home by thinly slicing a variety of vegetables. You can use potatoes, of course, but you can also experiment with kale, carrots, beets, and other vegetables. Just use some olive oil and a little salt, and you’ll have a tasty snack made with healthier ingredients than a bag of potato chips!
15. Make “donuts.”
Try a healthier twist on donuts by coring an apple, and then thinly slicing into rings. Once you have all your apple rings laid out, you can let your kids add whatever toppings they want. Some tasty additions are honey, chocolate syrup, peanut butter, sprinkles, granola, and mini chocolate chips.
16. Make an art piece.
We know people say not to play with food...but sometimes it’s ok! Let your kids experiment with foods by using different fruits and vegetables to create art masterpieces, and you might just be surprised at how excited your child is to taste their creation after! You can use cucumber and carrot rings to make caterpillars, waffles and apple sticks to make a lion, colored cereal to make rainbows, cheese squares and sliced olives to make cars, or whatever else you can imagine!
17. Don’t underestimate the stir fry.
Start with the basics: chicken and noodles (or rice). Then, experiment with what else you add to the stir fry. You can try mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, carrots, green beans, or whatever other vegetable you’d like your kids to try. Use a sauce that your kids enjoy, and they might be more accepting of any new additions to the stir fry!
18. Have a picnic.
Changing the location of a meal can make it more fun and relaxed. If the weather permits, lay out a blanket and enjoy a picnic outside. Your kids will appreciate both the fresh air, and your flexibility to eat in an exciting new spot!
19. Use a little peer pressure.
Just like your kids probably trade food at school, make a big deal about how delicious your meal is, and offer your child some if she asks. Or, ask her to “trade” an item from her plate for something from yours. This can make your child feel special and more in charge of her eating habits.
20. Take a breather.
Some kids remain picky for most of their childhood, while others are more willing to try new foods and experiment with different flavors and cuisines. If your child continues to put up a fight at mealtime, take a deep breath and know that it won’t be like this forever. Just be sure to keep offering healthy options and well-balanced meals, and your child will grow to have a healthy relationship with food!
Avoiding mealtime battles isn't easy but the rewards are all worth it. Forcing children in eating healthy foods isn't always a good idea. Encourage them instead so every time they sit at the table they will be excited for every meal you serve. Forming a habit can take a few weeks or even a few months or years, so patience is key in developing healthy eating habits and avoiding power struggles, after all, you're the mom.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.