Calling all paleo mamas and papas! As you are probably aware, feeding yourself is only half the battle when you have kids. While we’re going ahead and making big changes to our diet, the younger ones are often the toughest crowd to please. Fortunately, the myPaleoPal community is full of parents working hard to make veggies fun and exciting on a daily basis. While there is no one way or “magic trick” to turn your fussy eaters into fine diners, there’s a lot that will help your picky eaters ease up at the dinner table. Take it from the pros who are transforming tiny palettes day in and day out.
I asked the paleo parents of our community what their most successful tips and tactics for transforming young palates are, and we’ve gathered up some incredibly useful advice. If you have trouble with picky eaters, take note!
What are your best tricks? Perhaps it’s just time to add some new recipes to the mix-up. Check out these 12 Foolproof Paleo Recipes for Kids.
Be their guide
Knowledge is power, and you are the teacher. Take on this role with confidence. As real food experts and our children’s primary source of food, we want to arm these kids with the smarts to make good decisions at home and on their own as they grow. Ideally, that understanding will help them evolve into less picky eaters. As a parent, there are a few things we can do to make guiding the little ones’ choices in the right direction.
Alison explains, “My picky eater (6yo) is much more open to eating vegetables when grains are not in his diet. If he has crackers with lunch, he won’t eat any vegetables at dinner. If he hasn’t had crackers in a few days, he eats his offered veggies with no comment. [I] work with what he does like. We talk about the veggies (and we have a chart that he can mark certain ones as red, yellow, or green) so that we know what he likes.“
In this instance, the kids are making decisions in the absence of other staple foods and what they do like. Preparing a chart for the kitchen with a visual reminder for both you and the little ones should make things easier. It’s a forum for discussion, and it will help you to teach the kids about the importance of different veggies while focusing on easy-to-understand concepts like colors.
Lead by example
Kids are the most easily-influenced demographic. This is both good and bad. The positive side? This gives the parents the ultimate power. While you can be the best teacher in the world, true influence pays off by practicing what you preach. If you act as a role model for your children, they will be more eager to do what you do.
Kerrey tells us, “My son admires his stepfather. Last summer, it was impossible to get him to eat even a single bite of a vegetable. One day, I noticed that the few vegetables that he eats were also vegetables that my husband enjoys. My husband is Italian and is a bit of a foodie as my son is aware. I mentioned to my son that he seems to have a palate similar to my husband and, perhaps, since he and my husband had similar tastes, he could eat the vegetables that my husband likes. We talked about vegetables common in Italian cooking, and my son agreed to try them. Pretty soon, he was eating almost everything and is actually quite adventurous.”
Amongst all tactics that you can implement during meals with your picky eaters, this may be the most powerful. Fortunately, if you’re already following a paleo diet, the concept itself is simple enough and requires minimal effort. Observe what piques your kid’s interests on their plate, whose behavior they’re more likely to replicate, and what teaching techniques they are most responsive to.
Train ’em like little chefs
The kitchen isn’t an adults-only zone, so don’t make it one. Nurture a positive food experience as a family for both you and the kids by allowing them to help out. While batch-cooking and meal prep aren’t necessarily suited for little hands, weekend breakfasts can spare a little extra time to teach them your ways.
Kerry further elaborates on her kitchen experience with her son: “I also get him involved in the planning the menu and as much as I can in the cooking.”
Not only does menu planning offer children the freedom of making choices, but cooking the food itself will make them more enthusiastic. When the experience of eating is accompanied by seeing the product from start to finish, they may be more willing to try new foods. Lastly, you’ll be building the foundation of cooking skills that will carry them through the rest of their lives as they develop.
Avoid being the paleo police
A balanced approach is important for most things in life, and feeding the kids well is no exception. While children with allergies should be fed with the utmost care to manage undesirable symptoms, too much control regarding the “normal” kid’s diet can turn them away from enjoying food altogether.
Jennifer shares her method of a balanced approach:
“For our kids, we’ve made this decision (to not be “stricter” with their diet) for several reasons:
1). We don’t want them to feel “food controlled” or “food policed”–that has another host of psychological concerns.
2) We know what it feels like to be extremely strict with your diet and then eat something non-compliant. We don’t want them to get sick because they ate pizza at a friend’s house.
3) I want them to feel normal at “kid” events: birthday parties, school events, after-sports games.
All that said, we aren’t managing serious health issues; we just want our family to eat healthily and nutritiously, and we subscribe to a little ‘kids will be kids’ approach.“
If you’ve adapted to a paleo diet, you’re likely accustomed to the notion that this is a lifestyle, not a diet. As such, we realize that it involves a great deal of transformation both on our plates and in our minds. By avoiding the idea of control, we help nurture a healthy psychological relationship with food which is formed in us as children. Keep your mission simple and focused on health rather than perfection, especially when you’re trying to make your picky eaters less picky.
Stick with the tried and true favorite
Take note of the textures, flavor profiles, and foods your kids enjoy over time. Kids aren’t just picky eaters, but their picky habits are subject to change without notice. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to specific food likings and aversions, but our paleo parents have some tips.
Hanna shared her own brilliant way of getting ferments essential oils into her picky eater’s diet:
“All I have so far are gummies. You can turn pretty much any clear liquid into a gummy and he’s liked all of them – Even the ones made using beet kvass and rosehip syrup!”
Gummies are a paleo favorite, and they’re a tiny, non-intimidating vessel of goodness. The gelatin itself offers a myriad of health benefits, and you can infuse these “candies” with just about anything else you’re having trouble fitting on the plate. These are no substitution for a heaping plate of veggies, but they’re a suitable supplement. Check out Three Easy Gelatin Recipes on the blog if you need some guidance with getting started.
Kids will be kids, so this means your picky eaters are going to take their best options. If you’re advocating for healthier choices at school functions or sporting events, offer up what you’ve got! Naturally, being involved in those activities will mean a lot to your children regardless of whether you come bearing snacks or not. We all know food is the way to the heart, though.
Jennifer shares her strategy: “For school parties or sports snacks, I try to volunteer to bring the first snacks and then bring fresh fruit, air popped popcorn or unsweetened Popsicles with mini bottles of water or whole milk singles. I’ve found setting the tone at the outset with healthier snacks cuts down on other parents desire to send Twinkies and Capri Sun.“
Stepping up to volunteer gives you the freedom of offering healthy snacks to everyone. By setting an example for the kids, you inherently set a standard for other adults doing the same service as well. Once again, leading by example is a powerful tool. Since you’ll be providing food for a crowd of other picky eaters, you can add in non-paleo, whole food snacks like popcorn and milk for familiarity like Jennifer mentions.
Keep on trying
A little exposure therapy in the kitchen is a fairly trustworthy method in transforming your picky eaters into more open-minded diners. If they don’t like it at first, just keep on trying. Furthermore, you can prepare the food in different ways to test whether or not it’s the aesthetics or texture that’s turning them off in the first place.
Shawna has three boys, and she has different strategies for each. Throughout her experience with three picky eaters of different varieties, she found repetition and familiarity to be key: “The youngest is almost entirely Paleo. With him, we just keep putting a new food on his plate, over and over and over. He rejected kabocha for weeks! Suddenly, he’s eating it and eating it first! Repetition led to familiarity which led to acceptance. These boys have a big problem with changing seasons. I try to keep our food seasonal as much as possible, but found that meant last year’s favorites were getting rejected! Hello, frozen veggies! I’ve got to keep accepted veggies familiar!“
With Shawna’s boys, repetition lead to familiarity which finally lead to acceptance. In order to maintain their interest, she works with frozen veggies. If you’re having any luck with picky eaters, try preserving their favorites while they’re in season by freezing them yourself!
When all else fails, add ketchup
Sometimes, all it takes is a little extra something. That something might just be a dip or a sauce. The taste of anything can be enhanced or masked by a delicious dip on the side. Dressings, homemade ketchup, and BBQ sauce could change the game with your picky eaters.
Shawna also shared her second-best secret with us: “I’ll give you my husband’s method as well: Paleo sauces. He can get them to eat most anything by dipping it in ketchup!”
If you have an understanding of the tastes and flavors your kids are partial to, try incorporating that into dips and sauces. This could help them be more adventurous with the food simply for the fact that it gives them the freedom to change the taste at their own will.
As Hanna stated, “I think children are often picky in different ways which means it’s hard to have any easy rules.” Most parents are probably nodding their heads, “Yes,” in agreement! There is no approach that works for all the picky eaters in the world, but there are countless ways in which you can work with your kids to feed them well and teach them about making healthier choices.
If you’re looking for more accountability, motivation, and a way to challenge yourself, come join us for the next 30 Day KickStart! A new 30 Day KickStart begins each month. Find out why it’s proven to 5X your commitment to healthy eating.