This article ‘Playful tips to help Picky Eaters’ is a collaboration between Little Peeps Eats and Kind to Kidz.
Wouldn’t it be great if dinner could be a relaxed and fun time for your family instead of a nightly battle? It can be! Check out our list below of handy ways to tempt picky-eaters and maintain peace and sanity all at the same time.
Playful ways to help Picky Eaters
Admit it – who hasn’t had a family meal end in complete and pure frustration, picky eaters refusing to eat? To receive complaints about what food is on the table, and feeling completely and utterly deflated about the fact that no one appreciates how much effort you’ve put into cooking?
Dealing with picky eaters is a normal part of parenthood, the same as being picky with your food is a normal part of growing up.
When you are having that negotiation with your kids every night over dinner it can seem like you’re the only one who has been there – but rest assured you are absolutely not alone.
And because you aren’t the first parent who’s been through the nightly fussy eating battle, we have been able to put together some very handy picky eater tips, tricks and games from other mums and dads who have been there and survived.
Even while your temper is rising and the temptation is to yell, that getting angry over dinner isn’t the answer. Getting angry in this situation only seems to make your child more stubborn, and the whole experience gets more stressful for everyone.
Wouldn’t it be great if dinner could be a relaxed and fun time for your family instead? It can be! Check out our list below of handy ways to tempt picky eaters and maintain peace and sanity all at the same time.
These tips can help you cope with the pickiness of a range of different aged children.
Younger kids will respond better to physical games, songs, actions and jokes, whereas school-age children will need word games and negotiating which will intrigue their growing minds as well as challenging their stubborn natures.
7 quick and playful tips to help with picky eaters
Dinner time is a great time of day to be away from screens, and have some quality conversation and family time. With picky eating, you want to create positive mealtime experiences – and sometimes the best way to do this can be by changing some of the focus away from the food.
Whilst my boys can be good talkers – when asking them questions like ‘how was your day?’ they are generally met with one word answers.
These conversation starters always end up in a laugh at our dinner table:
- What is one super power you would most love to have?
- If you had to pick only one – would you want to be a great singer or a great dancer?
- If you could go into any TV show – what show would want to visit?
- What do you think your are good at?
- If you could only eat one fruit forever – what fruit would it be?
- What rules would you make if you were a teacher?
- If you could be an animal what would you be?
- What are three words you would uses to describe yourself?
- If you went to another planet – what would you bring with you?
- If you could make your whole house out of food – what food would you use?
What’s in the dinner?
This is an easy game where children take turns guessing at the ingredients that went into the dinner. They get better at identifying individual foods and surprisingly this tends to make them more comfortable with the various items in the meal rather than less.
My aspiring comedians started out by suggesting things like ‘pickled penguins’ and ‘feet’, but they did eventually start discussing real food options.
Get kids cooking
This is an awesome way to get help in the kitchen and get your kids more familiar with their food. When children are actively involved in making the meal they are far more likely to happily eat it (and may even convince siblings to do so too!)
Even if your little ones are too young for real food and utensils, they would love to help in the kitchen with their own role play.
Check out the gorgeous range of wooden play kitchen items from Kind to Kidz. Especially lovely for the tiniest of fussy eaters and first-time cooks is this fruit and veggie role play set.
A tiny taste
Okay, this sounds weird, but breaking dinner down to just one try is all you need in the beginning.
One fantastic tip we love comes from Dr Jennifer Cohen who specialises in assisting with fussy eaters. She calls this the tiny taste rule.
Negotiate with your child that they aren’t able to say they don’t like something until they have tried it at least once. Promise them if they try, and then really don’t like it, they don’t have to eat any more. They can even spit out the mouthful if they really don’t like it.
It is completely valid to not like food once tried – most children just reject food without the trying. Be careful about forcing children to eat food they don’t want as this can lead to food aversions according to Dr Cohen.
Gift them their own special, colourful plates
Make a special gift of a new plate to your child to make dinner more of an interactive game than a tedious chore. Then will particularly look forward to getting to use their special plate or dinner set.
We love the bright colours in these Re-Play divider plates by Kind to Kidz – and the divided sections are great for any little fusspots who don’t like their food to touch.
Popping one of these super-cute plates underneath your child’s meal is guaranteed to peak their interest and make dinner time a bit more interactive and fun.
Give their food a name and story
Create a world for your child’s food where each ingredient has a name, personality and even a backstory if you like. Turning their food into characters (Peter the Pea, Brian the Broccoli etc.) can help with getting kids to try it and be less afraid of it.
You can talk about the food getting sad for not being eaten, or have it try to run away from the plate before your child has to catch it in their mouth. Talk about what it did that day, and how its bed is on your child’s tongue, and it’s time for the food to go to sleep.
Your imagination can take you anywhere with this one – just create the characters and story and off you go!
Tiny Masterchef judges
With the wave of cooking shows and food vloggers, everyone is a food critic! Try playing Masterchef and getting the kids to judge and critique the meal. Make it creative and fun – they are not allowed to just offer ‘Yuk’ as a review.
Try to get them to describe colours, textures, flavours, what they liked and what they didn’t, what might improve the meal (i.e. covering it in chocolate sauce!) They can finish critiques by giving scores out of ten or offering thumbs up, sideways or down as a review.
Imaginative play – make mealtimes fun
With little ones, trying to keep your cool and make mealtimes fun is sometimes the best way to go. Have small toys and games at the table to help keep the mood light.
We really love keeping the toys food-themed however, as this teaches them that food and eating is the focus now. The gorgeous Kind to Kidz range has a couple of great options for this, including this beautiful retro-look breakfast role play set.
What’s that good for
If there is one thing about my boys, they love to show off how strong they are! We love to play games identifying what a particular food is good for.
- Carrot is good for supersonic eye sight
- Broccoli has a lot of vitamin C, which helps us heal quickly if we hurt ourselves in the playground
- Sweet potato is full of nutrients that give us energy which helps us run faster
- Milk has calcium, which keeps our bones strong
Have a sword fight
A sword fight, say what?
Last week, I put a platter of veggies in the middle of the table at dinner time. Usually, neither of my boys will TOUCH snow peas. Well I picked up a snow pea and asked who was game enough to have a sword fight with me!
Both boys immediately picked up a snow pea, ready for the challenge. We had a little snow pea sword fight, and at the end I declared myself the winner, meaning I got to eat my snow pea first. Both boys responded ‘no me, no me!’ completely forgetting that they didn’t like them (or did they???)!
We all gobbled up our snow peas and I ticked that off as a win!
Whilst I’m sure my mother would have been horrified with our table manners, it was certainly an effective way to keep the mood light and create a positive association between my boys and a food they didn’t think they would like.
Picky Eater Tips: Remember a few key things:
When your child is refusing to eat, it is usually about something else other than food.
They might be doing it because something else is bothering them, or because in being a picky eater they might be getting more concentrated attention from you than they have had all day. They also pick up on your stress and frustration and feed on that (this they will feed on – the irony of that is ridiculous!).
Have go-to safety foods that you know they will eat, and then use these as a buffer in between the other things. Get your child to have one bite of something new, then an old favourite food as a chaser, and keep alternating until you are happy with the amount they have eaten.
Children may seem like they are picky about a lot of things, but it is scientific fact that their taste buds are a lot more sensitive – so all of the individual flavours, textures and spices are much stronger for them than they are for you. Take a deep breathe and accept if they really don’t like some things.
In the wise words of Frozen’s Elsa…
If the argument is going nowhere and you are just finding yourself getting frustrated, let it go for tonight. Don’t reward their bad behaviour, but cut yourself some slack at the same time – no one wants to be stuck at the table all night glaring at their child over the plate that won’t get eaten.
And if all else fails, just put their food on your plate – this is a guaranteed way to get children to eat anything!
For some mealtime inspiration for picky esters, check out our article here.
And if you have your own handy tip to offer that has really worked for you in the past, comment and let us know – we would love to hear about it!
Rachel Cassidy is the author of this article and the founder of Little Peeps Eats. She is a passionate food blogger and brand ambassador, but her most important job is being a mum! Little Peeps Eats helps families take the stress out of mealtimes by providing healthy, kid approved recipes, as well as fussy eating tips and tricks. Their website hosts a directory of nutritionists, resources and mealtime products to ensure that you have everything you need at your fingertips when it comes to feeding your family.