Ask The Experts: How Do I Expand a Picky Eater’s Palate?

Healthy eating habits should be an ongoing conversation, not a battle

Q: How do I convince my very, very picky kid to try other foods? My 11-year-old just won’t try new foods, and he only eats a select few foods.

A: Definitely at this age, kids are asserting independence and are less likely to seek the reward of parent acknowledgment. Exerting parental pressure can backfire. I recommend this handful of tactics to try to grow your child’s diet. And remember, this is an ongoing family conversation about the benefits of healthy eating, not a battle. Take heart: The vast majority of children expand their palates by the young-adult years.

  • Find out what is being taught at your son’s school, and build upon that knowledge. If the science behind food interests him, make this a topic your family explores. For example, kids can learn why it’s important to “eat a rainbow” of colors.
  •  Find cooking classes, camps and other activities that can expose your son to healthy eating without your influence. My daughter tried a rainbow lettuce wrap on a field trip to a cooking school, and now we make them at home. You’d be surprised what kids will try when their parents are not in the room!
  •  Turn peer pressure into a positive attribute. More adventurous friends — both kids and adults — can exert a good influence on your child. Reinforce this with the “adventure bite” concept, adding a sense of pride for trying new foods.
  • Engage your picky eater in meal planning. Ask him to find recipes, make a shopping list together and cook together, too. The more invested your child is in the meal before it reaches the table, the better.
  • Consider involving your family doctor in the conversation. A discussion between doctor and child could emphasize what a body needs for energy daily. This science of good eating — understanding what nutrients your son may not be getting enough of — means your son can become more motivated to find solutions. For example, a doctor suggesting a daily smoothie full of nutrients might give a child an avenue to take charge of creating healthier eating habits and trying foods he would never have eaten otherwise.

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