There are all kinds of funky diets out there, but no one really mentions the “toddler diet.” You know, those weeks when your child refuses to eat anything but peanut butter toast or cereal or bananas (yikes!)? If your little one is reluctant to change things up, no amount of cajoling will help. So what can you do to encourage your child to try a new dish or ingredient? We’ve got the 411, aka #momhacks.
Little kids love a good game of make-believe, and nothing will get them more excited than trying a theme night! Pick a theme– Swedish Sunday? Mediterranean Monday? Luau and Leis? – and create an experience rather than a meal. A few decorations will go a long way towards making your night feel special (and taking the focus off the exotic new food you’re trying.) If you’re feeling especially inspired, wear a traditional costume (nothing is quite as entertaining as watching dad dance around in a hula skirt!). Enjoy your themed meal accompanied by music from that part of the world. Before you know it, your little one will be asking you for pad Thai on the reg!
Play ‘Guess the Food’
Budding YouTube stars will love this one! First, make a few dishes or snacks that include the new foods you’d like your little one to try –beet hummus, chia seed pudding, and a Brussels sprout purée are great places to start. Get ready to be a bit sneaky here and prepare the foods out of sight! Here’s how the game works: blindfold your child and offer up one of your creations. Don’t forget to videotape it, so your child can watch his or her expressions later! Encourage your little one to touch, smell, and taste each dish. Can he or she guess the main ingredient? This novel approach will make trying new things fun – and will develop your child’s palate!
Make meal planning a family affair. If you have older kids, let them loose on a website like allrecipes.com. Let them pick a recipe – any recipe – that looks tasty. They may opt for an old favorite like spaghetti or meatloaf at first, but encourage them to get more adventurous over time. If you’ve got younger children (or you just don’t want your child to pick something crazy or time-intensive, like turducken) then offer them a selection of three to five recipes. Show them pictures of each one, and let them choose. Shop for ingredients together and include them in as much of the cooking process as you can. It’s guaranteed that they’ll be curious to know what the dish they picked will taste like!
Grow a Garden
Gardens are truly magical – even if you don’t quite have a green thumb! They foster patience, perseverance, and teach children the fundamentals of nature. Even toddlers can help as you till the soil, hoe and pick the weeds, and plant the seeds. Sometimes, nothing beats playing with dirt! Let your child choose seed packets from the store, and talk about the recipes you’ll make with your fresh ingredients. When you and your child wake up each morning, head out to your garden to water the plants and check on your progress. A garden can be a wonderful way to bond with your child, and you’ll reap the yummy rewards!
Change the Setting
Want to get your child to eat a new dish? Make it a festive picnic (even if it’s only in the middle of your family room). Doing something out of the ordinary puts the emphasis on the setting rather than the food itself. Your child might be reluctant to try a goat cheese salad if you serve it at the kitchen table, but spread a blanket out on the living room floor, head to the playground for a picnic, or bring it with you to the children’s museum and he or she will be eager to try it. Sometimes, it’s not about what you eat – it’s about where you eat it!
When All Else Fails…
…add sprinkles! No child can resist a smattering of sprinkles, even if you’re putting it on a watercress salad. Sprinkles are essentially flavorless, and they aren’t going to make a huge dent in the nutritional value of whatever you’ve made. Something about sprinkles makes any dish seem like ice cream to a child. Keep your child’s favorite color or type of sprinkles on hand, and at the first sign of a grimace or reluctance to try something new, ask if your child would like to add some sprinkles to it. It’s a tough offer to turn down!