July 25, 2013

How to encourage kids to eat

Toddlers and preschoolers are notoriously picky.

Meals can be a fiasco with a picky toddler or preschooler. As much as you want to, forcing them to eat is a bad idea. But there are ways to encourage them to eat. Here are some ideas:
Serve small portions. You might think that it’s better to give them a big pile of whatever, just in case they eat them. But it’s better to not intimidate them with huge portions of everything. Give them a couple of each item, and always remind them they can have more of whatever they want.
Get plates with compartments. Divided plates not only makes meals more visually appealing, but they also encourage us to serve foods in more types of food groups. Its also fun for kids to eat one compartment at a time.
Use fun shapes. Get creative with presentation. Apples don’t have to always be sliced into plain ol wedges. Make them into “donuts” with an apple corer, or “sticks,” or try leaving the apple whole. Deli meat, cheese, and sandwiches can be cut lots of different ways. Use cookie cutters or try creating faces or pictures with food.
Sprinkles make anything more fun. It’s better for them to eat a banana with a few sprinkles on it, than not at all. Sprinkles work on yogurt, oatmeal, bagels and cream cheese, celery and peanut butter, etc.
Get creative with plates. Kids can get tired of eating off the same old plates. Try serving a meal in a cupcake pan, in a few separate bowls or cups, in cupcake liners, or whatever else you find that could be a new experience.
Use toothpicks. (under supervision, of course!). Kids love toothpicks. Give them a bowl or cup to put the used ones in.
Let them choose what to eat. Stock your fridge with a variety of healthy foods, and let them choose which fruit, veggie, and dairy product they want to eat.
Freeze stuff. Lots of fruits and veggies can be served frozen: grapes, peas, carrot coins, corn, berries, and melons. Again, the idea is to change things up a little.
Make things easier to eat. Soups can be hard for uncoordinated toddlers, so offer a straw. Cut things into proper sizes. Pour a sauce over rice to help it clump together. Wrap a clean rubber band around a burrito to keep it rolled tight.
Hide veggies. A lot of veggies can be hidden in soups, casseroles, omelets, and burritos. Even carrots or potatoes can be grated up and mixed in with ground beef or turkey. Dice veggies so that they are too small to see or pick out.
Enlist their help. Kids are more likely to eat something they helped create. Let them peel their own bananas and oranges, let them pluck their grapes off the stem.
Let them dip. Ketchup, peanut butter, nutella, syrup, salad dressing, whatever. Dipping makes it fun (albeit messy!).
Ditch the kitchen table. A change of scenery might be all your toddler needs to interest him in eating. Try a picnic outside or a picnic inside. Play "hospital" and have her lay in bed while you spoon-feed the "sick patient." Have him pretend to be a puppy and eat out of a bowl on the floor. Get creative.
Distract them. They're likely to keep munching on whats in front of them if they're focused on something else. Read stories, sing songs, or let them watch a quick cartoon. 
Bribery. Nothing motivates a kid to eat dinner like a great dessert. If you’re really desperate, you can even reward each bite of healthy food with a small treat, like a marshmallow or a chocolate chip.
Feeling like you serve your toddler/preschooler the same things over and over? Here are some more ideas:
edamame, pepperonis, cheese cubes, plain pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, deli meat, spaghettios, raviolis, ramen, mashed potatoes, anything wrapped in a tortilla, potato wedges, fruit cocktail, pigs in a blanket, string cheese, pretzels, PB&J, celery and peanut butter, shish kebabs, carrots and ranch dip, yogurt, mandarin oranges, applesauce, smoothies, tater tots, sweet potato fries, taquitos, bagels and cream cheese, french toast, oatmeal, egg sandwich, tuna on english muffins, mini-pizzas, french bread pizza, quesadilla, grapes, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, oranges, pears, grapefruit, bell peppers, zucchini, spaghetti squash, yams, cherry tomatoes, corn on the cob, fish sticks, frozen waffles, hard boiled eggs, rotisserie chicken, paninis, omelets, graham crackers and pudding,

Did I miss anything?


  1. Awesome post! I got some great tips for the next few months with my little guy. Thanks :) You're a great mom!

  2. You are brilliant! I am going to put everything from the "more ideas" on my grocery list right now.

  3. I love this!

    But headsup on the hotdog suggestion. Even cut up their texture isn't safe. They are the number one food choking hazard that leads to death and the #2 of all items (balloons being #1) for choking leading to death in toddlers. It isn't recommended to give them hotdogs until after three :) I don't typically worry at all but we have a paramedic in the family who freaks if anyone gives a little one hotdogs as he's seen too many kids die because of them.

    1. I did not know that about hot dogs! I will delete them from the list. Thanks!!