Written by: Elizabeth Fay, MS, RD, CSCPCC, CNSC
Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Pediatric Critical Care Nutrition, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician
We’ve all been there: cooking or preparing a meal for a friend or loved one, young or older, who has limited foods they enjoy because of picky eating. Notice I don’t just mention kids here. Picky eaters are all different ages! Even eating out can pose a challenge for a picky eater. Perhaps you even find yourself to be a picky eater! A variety of foods helps to ensure we eat a wide range of nutrients, so when someone is a picky eater with limited foods they like, it may be difficult to meet their nutrient needs. Follow these tips to help increase the variety of foods your picky eater eats!
- Be a Role Model
Monkey see, monkey do… right? One of the most influential methods to encourage a picky eater to try new foods is to be a role model and include them on your plate! For example, if you’re out at a restaurant and your little one orders a kid’s meal and has a choice of a side dish, many families and kids may default to selecting French fries. You may substitute or choose a side of broccoli or apple slices in place of French fries for your little one. Then, when you go to order your meal, and you select French fries, it sets up a double standard at the table. Consider being a role model and substituting broccoli or a baked potato instead of fries. Another option may be to consider ordering fries and a side vegetable. You can then eat the vegetable alongside your your little one and split the fries at the table. This tip doesn’t only apply to kids though. Putting your health and wellness first is contagious! If you choose to nourish yourself with a balanced meal, family members and friends may also follow in suit because your motivation can be powerful!
- Offer, Offer, Offer
This tip is most useful when helping young picky eaters broaden their food choices. It can take as little as 5 and as many as 20 exposures to a new food before a child may accept it! These exposures should be a positive, pressure-free experience. So the lesson here is: don’t give up! Let’s keep introducing new foods to nourish our little ones. Repeated exposure helps to bring a sense of normalcy and routine. It can help reduce fear and decrease the newness of a food. Although this tip requires some significant patience, the reward can be worth it to nourish our little ones with a variety of foods rich in different colors from all food groups.
- Try Different Preparations and Recipes
An effective approach to increasing food acceptance is trying unfamiliar or often refused foods in different ways. Foods are so wonderful in their ability to change flavor, texture, and even nutrient content based on their preparation. Think of the flavor and texture differences between raw carrots and cooked carrots or raw apple slices vs cooked apples. The flavor and texture differences are so different, it’s like it’s an entirely new food! So, if you or a loved one dislike roasted Brussels sprouts, try shaved, raw Brussels sprouts in a salad drizzled in balsamic vinaigrette! Raw Brussels sprouts offer a phenomenal crunch! Trying topping your salad with dried cranberries, feta cheese, shelled pistachios, and/or pomegranate seeds. If you dislike cooked quinoa in savory dishes such as stir fries, try replacing it for your oatmeal cereal in the morning. Top morning quinoa with nuts, dried fruit, and cinnamon! Or have quinoa as a cold side dish, replacing your favorite pasta salad recipe with quinoa. Have a look at our Nuleeu app or the desktop, cloud-based platform, which offer a large database of recipes with nourishing ingredients prepared in many different ways. Include your picky eater in the cooking and preparation of these foods! Getting accustomed to these foods helps to build confidence and increase acceptance.
- Keep It Positive
Thinking, talking, and hearing positive statements are motivating! When we are encouraged to nourish our bodies and we know why we should choose them, we have more motivation to try new foods. Instead of being told to do something “just because” or “because I said so,” we’re more receptive to recommendations when we know the reasons behind the suggestions. Touch base with your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian or professional coach to discuss which foods you avoid and why it would be beneficial to include them and/or find a substitution. For example, if you avoid leafy greens, you may benefit from learning about the vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, and antioxidants they offer. We can brainstorm together different recipes of how to include leafy greens or which spices and herbs compliment them to make them taste delicious for you! For children and younger adults, we encourage the same! Talk about the foods on the dinner table, when you pack lunches, or when you’re shopping at the grocery store. Talk about how beautiful artichokes are or how pineapples have such a unique shape and texture! If you’re encouraging milk or soy milk in place of soda, explain that foods from the dairy food group help to keep our bones strong!
You may choose to use some or all of these tips depending on which picky eater you have on your hands. Work with your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian or professional coach to provide additional, personalized recommendations just for you!