Like many preschoolers, my daughter is a picky eater. For some reason I always thought that my excellent feeding choices when she was a baby would result in a child who loved healthy food. And preferably exotic food. I imagined that because her first foods were steamed broccoli and free-range chicken, she’d be enjoying organic falafel and fresh acai berries at age three. And because, you know, I always eat so healthy (ha!), so of course she would do the same.
But somewhere along the way, she discovered Cheerios and peanut butter, and it all kind of went downhill from there. Of course it’s whole-grain Cheerios and organic peanut butter. But still.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m just not a very good cook. Maybe if I could make truly high-quality exotic food, she’d enjoy it. If you suspect that may be your problem as well, I have a giveaway coming up this Friday (my first blog giveaway! Hooray!) that is perfect for you. (It involves really delicious free organic lunches. So you really need to come back here on Friday.) But in the meantime, here are a few ideas that even bad cooks like me can incorporate into their home menus.
1. Sauces. I always, always always put greens in my sauces. Usually this means spaghetti sauce with mixed greens cooked in. My daughter has recently become more savvy in her rejection of green food and has started to pick the greens out of her sauce. But hey, at least I’m trying. I figure if I put healthy food in front of her, it’s not my fault if she doesn’t eat it.
2. Smoothies. Same principle, but even more sneaky. I had just started making green smoothies last summer when my blender broke (which was totally my fault, by the way. Pure user error). The real trick to disguising the taste of greens in a smoothie, according to my midwife, is pineapple. She’s right. Any green smoothie that incorporates pineapple is going to taste delicious. Well, unless you add ketchup or something. In which case you are an even worse cook than I am.
3. Homemade popsicles. These are essentially smoothies frozen and saved for later. But I usually don’t make green popsicles. I make them with strawberries and yoghurt so they have protein and fruit. Bonus? I give them to my daughter for breakfast. She thinks I’m the greatest mom in the world when I give her popsicles for breakfast. I can say no to everything she asks after that and she’ll probably still be happy. Or if she’s not, I just give her another popsicle.
4. Repeat offerings. I am not a fan of the whole short-order-cook thing when my kids don’t like meals I make, because cooking, in my opinion, is a pain enough as it is, so it’s rare that I will even consider making something different because my daughter doesn’t like the main meal. So generally, I tend to cook things for everybody that I know she’ll eat. However. Occasionally (very occasionally, these days) I want to try something new. Usually she doesn’t like it. I have gotten to the point where I don’t really care. And if my husband and I really like it, then I will make it again. Generally after she’s seen something four or five times, she’ll decide she likes it. Or else she’ll be hungry enough that she’ll eat it anyway.
5. Make healthy food visible. Whenever I have playgroup at my house, I put out a bunch of snacks. Mostly healthy snacks like vegetable dips and fruit. My daughter always surprises me by how much she’ll eat of good stuff when it’s out and visible like that. Preschooler see, preschooler eat. Or something like that. Along the same lines…
6. Get unhealthy food out of the house. Or at least hide it in the top back of the pantry where your kids can’t see it. If they can see the potato chips, they will want them. Added bonus? You won’t be able to eat the unhealthy food either.
7. Dips. Dipping is good. Kids love to dip stuff. Dips make everything taste like the dip, so once you have a dip your kid likes, you can get them to eat almost anything. “Do you want some broccoli?” “No.” “Do you want broccoli dipped in chocolate?” “YES!” Okay, maybe that’s not the best idea. (Even though it was dark, organic, fair trade chocolate. I swear.) But you get what I mean.
8. Chips. No, not potato chips; I mean healthy chips. You can make almost anything into chips. Like kale and beets and sweet potatoes. I have not mastered this art (okay, I haven’t actually tried it yet), but I’ve heard good things. And my daughter does like chips, generally. As long as they have tons of salt and fat. And maybe some dip.
9. Community. This can be a hard one to remember, or to accomplish, anyway, especially when my husband doesn’t get home till 6:15 and my daughter really needs to eat at 5:30 and bedtime is 7:00 and Teddy wants to cluster nurse from 5:00 on. But. When we all sit down to eat together, my daughter eats more. She tries new foods much more readily. The family meal really is worth it. Even though it can seem almost impossible to sit down for that long in the evening. Which brings me to my final tip:
10. Atmosphere. My daughter is big on atmosphere. Specifically, candles. She loves having candles at dinner. I don’t know why. But she will eat just about anything by candlelight.
Readers with picky eaters: have you tried any of these tips? What else has worked for you?