Any parent who has ever had a picky eater kid knows firsthand the frustration of trying to get their child to be healthy, adventurous, and well-fed, only to have their lovingly cooked broccoli thrown on the ground in a tantrum. According to Mandy Sacher, child nutritionist and author of The Wholesome Child, 50% of toddlers can be classified as fussy eaters at any given stage, and eight out of 10 parents wish that their children ate a more varied and quality filled diet. "Dealing with picky eaters is a common occurrence,' she explains. "However, it’s the strategies we implement during these fussy phases that determine how quickly children will learn to enjoy new food."
Getting young children to try (and love) new foods can be a challenge for most parents, so we asked Sacher for advice. "Overall, my children have a varied diet and enjoy mealtimes. However, they each have their own set of likes and dislikes. For instance, my son loves meat, but it’s challenging to get him to eat fish and vegetable stews. My daughter loves fish and veggie stews but is not mad about chicken or eating meat off the bone." Curious to know how she got through her children's picky eater phases? Ahead, she drills down how to deal with picky eater kids (recipes included).
Educate Your Kids from an Early Age
For Sacher, positive associations with mealtime are crucial to getting kids to enjoy food. "In my family, we view mealtimes as a time to connect and enjoy quality time together," she says. "At dinnertime, we often play word games, I spy, tell stories, secret whispers—all of these activities help to lay down positive neural pathways, linking pleasant feelings with mealtimes."
She also makes a conscious effort to speak with her kids about food in a positive way. "We speak about food in terms of what it can do for our bodies. For example, meat contains protein, which helps grow healthy bones, rice and pasta are carbohydrates, which fuel our bodies, vegetables have superpowers, which prevent bugs from making us sick."
Lastly, she teaches them about where food comes from so they know what is processed and what isn't: "From a young age, my children have known about where food comes from, and we regularly visit community gardens and grow things in our backyard. They are very proud of the fact that their mommy has written a book about healthy nutrition, and they understand that they were the inspiration behind it."
Sacher's Top 3 Tips for Picky Eater Kids
1. Get the kids involved: "In my book, I go into detail about how to encourage children to help prepare and cook or bake food from a young age. One of the key messages to parents is to enjoy the experience without pressuring picky eaters to eat what has been prepared. The activity of engaging with the food helps to desensitize them to new ingredients, and if they feel safe to explore without any added pressure, they will likely come around to trying the new recipes and enjoying food prep."
2. Work within the framework of their textural preferences. "If your child enjoys crispy crunchy food, then offering them a homemade sweet potato wedge won’t cut it. Try a thinly sliced sweet potato fry. If you are preparing our sweet potato homemade pizza base (recipe can be found in chapter three of my book), make it thin and crispy rather than thick and doughy."
3. Do everything you can to make sure that family meals are enjoyable and not pressured. "Sit down together at mealtimes, play games, and talk about your day. Educate your children about the food they are eating, explaining why it’s good for them, and most of all set a good example—when it comes to food, you are the most important role model for your kids."
Spaghetti Bolognaise with Hidden Veggies
2 1/2 lb minced beef or lamb
2 1/2 onions, finely chopped
1/2 sweet potato purée (boiled or steamed—do not throw away excess water)
1/2 butternut pumpkin purée (boiled or steamed—do not throw away excess water)
1/2 cup of spinach or carrot purée (boiled or steamed)
1 1/2 lb tomato purée in a bottle (not canned)
2 tbsp. of mixed Italian herbs
2 to 4 cloves garlic, finely crushed
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 dried apricots (soaked)
1/4 cup of coconut oil
Celtic Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock or bone broth
Heat oil in a medium to large pan or pot, add onions and garlic and sauté until glassy.
In a large bowl using a masher, break mince down if it is very lumpy as this makes it easier to brown evenly.
Add the meat to onions, turn up the heat, and brown until there are no pink pieces. Add two tablespoons of mixed herbs and the cinnamon. Keep stirring until it’s browned all the way through.
Add tomato purée and simmer for 10 mins. Add pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach purées, mashed apricots and simmer for 25 mins with lid on.
Sufar-Free Almond Coconut Waffles
1 cup almond meal
1 tsp. coconut flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch sea salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder or extract
2 tbsp. maple syrup or raw honey
2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted
2 tbsp. coconut milk
Preheat waffle iron. In a large bowl mix together almond meal, coconut flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl beat the eggs. Stir in the vanilla extract, honey, coconut oil, and coconut milk.
Pour the egg mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until well combined.
Get Your Kids Involved in Cooking
Next up: six healthy meals that even the pickiest eaters will love.