How do I convince my children to eat what I prepare? I don't give them a different option. I put food on their plate at each meal and figure they'll eat it if they're hungry. If they don't want to eat, they can wait until the next meal or a snack time. On the rare occasion they can't wait until the next meal, I will give them a basic item after everyone else is finished and it's clear the meal is over. A basic item might include an apple or an oatmeal muffin depending on what is easy and what they've eaten recently.
My parents raised me the same way. We were expected to eat what was on the table and to have clean plates by the end of the meal. They didn't object to the picking out of little things we didn't like at the time, but if we wanted seconds or something later, we better not have anything on the plate. When my children are a little older and able to understand the rules better, we will more strictly enforce them.
Just because we have a rule doesn't mean it's always easy to get them to understand and try new things, so here are a few ideas to encourage children to try new meals/healthier options:
- Involve them in the preparation. I am not very good at this suggestion. I go about as far as letting my kids pick if they want their apple cut or whole. However, the few times that I have let the kids help stir, pour, or shape something, they've been very excited to try the finished product.
- Change the shape of the food to make it fun and/or familiar. This is how I convinced my children to try oatmeal. I took a basic baked oatmeal recipe, put it in muffin tins and they ate it right up. Once they realized they liked it, they started eating it in other forms and now I can even make it on the stove top and they'll eat it no problem. On a related note, some parents have good luck making pictures out of the meal, like a face pancake made with fruits and yogurt. If you'd like more ideas, take a look at pinterest- they're everywhere!
- Allow them to eat their preferred way. I'm not saying to give them fries and ketchup all the time, but if they enjoy dipping fries into ketchup, give them other finger foods they can dip. My kids both enjoy dipping spinach into ranch dressing instead of the traditional fork salad style of eating. My kids will try just about anything they can dip into something else. If your child prefers food in the form of sandwiches or wraps, get creative and try different styles such as fruit or vegetable slices for the bread (apple slice sandwiches or lettuce wraps) or a different style grain (rice paper for spring rolls).
- Add in extra ingredients to things they already like. There are several ways to go about this, my preferred is to add chunks of things (like squash in pasta sauce or sweet potato in chili) that are visible but don't drastically change the flavor. Some people won't eat it if they see it, so another option is to puree foods to add in to things like dessert and meatloaf. I don't care for this method, because I'd rather my family see that they like vegetables, but for more information check out this blog.