Tip #1: Don’t make it a power struggle
Repeat this to yourself 500 times: “I will not force my child to eat a food that she hates.” No one likes to admit defeat. If admitting defeat means eating spinach, your child will probably hate spinach. Norma, my childhood lunch lady loomed over me continually serving me more canned peas. Out of fear, I agreed, while devising ways to hide the peas so I didn’t have to eat them. Guess how I feel about canned peas today? Remember, it is your goal to get your child to embrace healthy lifestyle choices, not just to test her obedience.
Tip #2: Eat healthy yourself
If you want your child to choose berries over candy bars, then eat berries, not candy bars. If you serve an alfalfa sprout and tofu sandwich on wheat bread, and dad is on the couch chomping Doritos, the kids probably won’t be interested in the sandwich. Your child watches and imitates you much more than you realize. Feed yourself only what you would want to feed your child.
Tip #3: Give your child some choice
Choice is very powerful motivator and very easy to implement. You can start by asking your child if she wants green beans or corn with dinner, or whether she wants an apple or peanut butter and celery in her lunch box. Once she has chosen the fruit or vegetable, she is much less likely to resist eating it.
Tip #4: Make new foods fun
My daughter loves dinosaurs. I have dinosaur muffin pans, dinosaur cookie cutters, and dinosaur sandwich cutters. I can make all kinds of dinners look like dinosaurs. If it looks like a dinosaur, my child will happily eat it (usually head first). Find out what your child likes, and create foods surrounding her preferences. It doesn’t have to replicate the Sistine Chapel. Use raisins for eyes, carrot sticks for arms, etc. If you are not very creative, have your child figure out how to make her veggies into her favorite character. Her imagination is probably better than yours.
Tip #5: Make dinner enjoyable
Talk, play games, pray, sing, tell jokes, and sit down together. Make a competition to creatively name your new dinner. Do whatever it takes to make it fun. If dinner is enjoyable, your child will want to stay. If she stays long enough, she will probably nibble at your healthy new alternatives. If you are up to it, let your child play with her food (seriously!). So, what? The table can be washed.
Tip #6: Let your child help in the garden or with preparing food
My daughter sneaks around the corner to snack on raw tomatoes and sugar snap peas in our garden. She has an investment in and a connection to the food on our table. If you don’t have space for a garden, consider letting your child help prepare foods. Even a very young child can wash vegetables in the sink.
Tip #7: Keep trying
Just because your child didn’t like something you served the first time, doesn’t mean she will never eat it. Keep trying new foods in new combinations, and your family is bound to eventually agree on some healthy meals. One by one, add these meals to your list, and don’t give up.