Do you have a picky eater and spend hours agonizing about how to steer her away from the chicken nuggets and pasta diet? At my wit’s end with one of my own, I asked Cooking Channel host and The Next Food Network Star winner Melissa d’Arabian for some help.
Here, in her own words, are Melissa’s favorite tricks:
1. Let your kids pick the produce
I turn grocery shopping into a bit of an outing and the kids all know that they are in charge of picking produce. I hand them the plastic bag and say “Ok, Margaux, you are in charge of picking the best two fennel bulbs you can find!” Amazingly, the kids never tire of “being in charge of picking.” Now, you might expect me to tell you that Margaux will go home and eat the fennel because she picked it. Ha! Were it only so easy. But I think the fact that she had to ask me “What does fennel look like?” and she had to search over the green veggies, and spot the kale and the bok choy to get to the fennel means several veggies were a bit demystified for her. She might taste the fennel when I serve it, but even if she doesn’t, she spent 15 minutes feeling good about fennel and learning about it. Victory.
2. Go to the farmer’s market, for entertainment
Turn the farmer’s market trip into a relaxed, fun family outing. We amble leisurely from stall to stall, finding the craziest shaped squash, or a funny, knobby, tomato. The girls strike up conversations with the vendors, many of them farmers, who love to chat about their goods. We can easily spend a couple of hours at the farmer’s market, feeling good about fresh, unprocessed food. While the prices may be a bit higher than they are at the grocery store, I figure it’s still cheaper than taking everyone to the movie for two hours. And no one is falling in love with an oversized pumpkin at the cinema.
3. Serve at least two vegetables at dinner
Kids like to feel empowered. I like to serve two veggies during dinner to give my kids the option: Would you like carrots, kale, or both? They get to be involved in the decisions and I can ensure they’re eating at least one. Plus it’s a great way for us to meet our own nutritional goals and model healthy eating to the kids.
4. Have the kids “present” dinner
Every night one of the children presents the dinner to the rest of the family, explaining what each dish is, the main ingredients, and a very brief nutritional overview of the dish. For instance, “This is chicken cooked in a mustard sauce. Chicken is a protein which helps us build muscles.” My goal is to develop an appreciation for the different roles of healthy foods. Kids tend to group all “healthy” foods into one bucket, and I want my kids to know that just because they ate some healthy fish doesn’t mean that they don’t need to get some produce in there too.
5. Invite Your Kids to Plan the Menu
Every couple of weeks, I let each child plan dinner for the entire family. The rules are: Mom has to approve the menu, and mom is allowed to add a dish or two of her choosing. At first, the girls were suggesting crazy, imbalanced dinner menus, like my daughter Charlotte’s first: doughnuts and cinnamon cake. I gently told her how much I loved her creativity with the “breakfast for dinner” concept, but I wondered if perhaps we might be missing a protein? We agreed to add an omelet to the meal, and we moved the cinnamon cake to dessert. And, she excitedly suggested having a fruit salad instead of vegetables. The girls are developing a good sense for how to build a balanced meal, but there are two additional benefits: I have an internal salesperson sitting at the table, selling “her” menu to her sisters and the girls are more accepting of my menus, knowing they will get their own turn next Tuesday.
6. Make one meal for the whole family, and have the “no thank you” bite
I like to serve meals that offer delicious and nutritious foods that the whole family can enjoy. Sure you can adjust spices as needed, but I still make one meal. Then, the “no thank you” bite comes into play. My kids are welcome to say they don’t care for something as long as they have one bite. If they don’t like it, that’s fine, and I move on. For me this fits our family because I wanted my kids to be willing to try things. That was more important to me than having them stomach a huge thing of broccoli.
7. Give them “taste-tester” notebooks
I turned my children into “official” taste-testers just by giving each one a composition book that I bought for a buck! Anytime they try a new food, they write it down, give it a score from 1-10, and can write some comments (“yummy!” or “thought it was mushy”). Just the act of giving them a place to voice their opinion helps validate their opinions and creates an adventurous spirit at the table.