Make one meal for the whole family
"Be the “executive chef, not a short-order cook” is one of the mottos of registered dietitians Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss aka the Meal Makeover Moms (MMMs). There’s no reason choosy kids should get custom-made meals. When preparing a family meal, make one main course, but offer several side dishes including at least a couple that appeal to pickier palates (fruit, cheese, whole grain bread, etc.).
Don’t sneak in the veggies
The Moms don’t agree with the trendy technique of pureeing vegetables and blending them into foods in the hope that kids won’t notice them. Doing so sends the message that vegetables don’t taste good, which will reinforce a child’s already negative opinion about them. If you want to mix some carrots into the lasagna, go for it—just don’t keep it a secret from your kids. (These are the healthiest vegetables you can eat.)
Adopt the one-bite rule
Kids shouldn’t be forced to eat everything on their plates, say the Moms. In fact, doing so can affect their body’s ability to regulate hunger and fullness, which could lead to weight gain later in life. But everyone at the table should be required to take at least one bite of each item on the plate. If a child says he doesn’t like something, fine, he can take one bite and say, “No, thank you,” to the rest.
Don’t make dessert a reward
If you hold up dessert as the prize for cleaning a plate or eating vegetables, kids will become even more covetous of sweets and even more suspicious of veggies or new foods, say the MMMs. Rather than fetishizing desserts, they counsel parents to serve a variety of great tasting foods at a meal, including the occasional bowl of ice cream or slice of cake (which can actually be healthier than you think).
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Like most nutrition experts, the Moms are big proponents of repeatedly introducing foods to picky eaters. If your kid won’t eat more than a bite of asparagus this week, serve it again next week, and don’t give up. Children often need multiple experiences with a new food to become willing to try—and eventually embrace—them. For more tips and family-friendly recipes, check out the Meal Makeover Moms.