“I don’t want to eat that.”
Sound familiar? As a parent and new pediatrician, I am constantly looking for ways to get my kid to eat like I know he should. However, that’s easier said than done. How can I blame him, I’m a picky eater too! If I had it my way, I would still eat like a toddler. But, of course we want a better life for our children and the habits they learn young are the building blocks for a healthy future. So here are some ideas for getting those kiddos to eat the food that helps them grow!
- Go small on serving sizes
- Large serving sizes can be scary. It is less intimidating to take on a spoonful of food than a handful and if they like it, they can always ask for more. It is recommended that young children eat 2-3 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. However, serving sizes for a toddler are only one quarter of that of an adult. According to healthychildren.org, a toddler-sized portion of vegetables is only 1-2 tablespoons of cooked veggies.
- Create a positive mindset
- Vegetables should not be the bad guy at the dinner table. Try avoiding punishment and rewards. Although it might be tempting to use dessert as a bargaining tool to make your child eat their vegetables, this can create a negative attitude toward an important part of their meal.
- Try to change their attitude about foods they aren’t a big fan of. Instead of using phrases like “I hate broccoli,” try changing the wording to “I’m still learning to like broccoli.”
- Make food fun
- Giraffe food (aka leafy greens) with a little bit of dressing can be eaten like a giraffe. (Shout out to the giraffes at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo for showing us how it’s done!)
- Incorporate your kid’s favorite characters into recipes. My son loves the Incredible Hulk, so we recently started eating Hulk mac and cheese (also known as broccoli mixed with mac and cheese.) Broccoli also doubles as tiny trees that can be eaten as if we were prehistoric dinosaurs. (Bonus points for dinosaur noises while eating those tiny trees.)
- Use fun cookie cutters or make food faces before serving.
- Have your kids help you cook! Cooking is a great activity for them to learn how to count, measure and follow directions. Allowing them to help in the kitchen at an early age makes the eating experience a little bit more rewarding.
Dr. Garza and son practice their vegetable super hero poses to prepare for making "Hulk mac and cheese"
Mealtime can be hard when it comes to picky eaters, but hopefully these tips will make eating those fruits and vegetables a bit easier. It’s also important as the adult to set a good example for how to eat, so limit or fully get rid of that junk food and stay stocked on healthy snacks like fresh fruits and veggies. (As an added bonus, we become a little healthier, too!)
About the Author
A Fresno native, Dr. Nicholas Garza is a member of Valley Children's Pediatric Residency Program's Class of 2024. His research interests include traumatic brain injuries, glioblastomas, non-invasive brain simulation and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on inpatient telehealth.