How to Get Kids to Eat

So how do you get kids to eat? It seems like such a silly question, if you’re not living it! You’d think with growing kids they would be hungry and eat all the time. Some are! Others are just indifferent toward food, and some openly reject it. If you’re a parent, you know what I am talking about!

Every kid is just so different. What works for one family won’t work for another. Even within one family, what works for one child won’t work for the other. Maybe your child eats everything under the sun until age 2, then stops eating altogether. Maybe your little one is picky from the get go.

(Photo from Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, GA)

My two daughters have ups and downs in their eating patterns. I can definitely tell when they’re having growth spurts because they eat a ton! Other times, my four year old won’t eat a bite of dinner, and never act the least bit hungry. For me, pulling family dinner together is hard enough as it is, and I’m not about to make another “meal” of macaroni and cheese or PB&J separately for my kids. It may sound harsh, but the way I see it, they can eat what the family is eating, or they must not be hungry enough. I do sometimes separate out, or deconstruct the different components of our family dinner so it will better appeal to them. For example, on taco night, instead of giving the girls a full taco that will likely fall apart and lose all the fillings, I just plate the meat, cheese, beans, tomatoes and olives as little “snacks” on their plate.

I grew up tasting a “No Thank You Bite” of everything on my plate. It was important to my parents that I at least tried new foods and was exposed to a variety of textures and flavors, even if I didn’t choose to finish it. I think this was a good method, and now as an adult, I enjoy most all foods and cuisines. But I do remember many, many nights sitting at the table until 8 or 9pm, in a battle of wills refusing to try Sloppy Joes or worse, Shepherds Pie!

(Photo taken at Katz Deli, NYC)

With my girls, my husband and I have decided to try making food a non-issue. We don’t force anything on them, but we also don’t offer alternatives. Occasionally if I know my four year old is truly hungry, I will let her have a slice of bread before bed, but no “fun food” that could be seen as a reward for not eating the family dinner. So far, my one year old eats pretty much anything I put in front of her, and starts throwing food off her tray and around the kitchen once she is full and bored. My four year old is not a perfect eater, but she does try and love Thai and Indian food along with other ethnic cuisines, and she eats most of the family meals I make. There are, of course, off days when none of these things hold true.

(Photo from “The Halal Guys” Gyro Food Truck, NYC)

Here are a few tips and ideas that I have tried or have worked for us, if you’re looking for some new ideas to get your children to eat!!

  1. Serve them food in a partitioned divider, like a muffin or ice cube tray, or just a divided child plate. Food not touching each other is a thing!

  2. Offer them less snacks and fun food during the day. If they’re really hungry at dinner, they’re more likely to eat. Shocking, I know!

  3. Offer them food with a few toothpicks! Kids love stabbing each bite of food and it makes the meal a game!

  4. Create a simple picture out of their meal, or even just call it a fun name! We have Ants on a Log (Celery with peanut butter and raisins) at our house and sing a song about quesadillas that make them a THRILL to eat!

  5. Pitch the idea of “Eating the rainbow!” It’s fun to find and eat food of various colors- and they’re generally healthy too!

  6. If your child is old enough, I have found that letting them help prepare the meal is the very best way to get them to eat it! It could be anything from stirring a pot of soup, measuring ingredients, stuffing manicotti shells, or buttering bread. If they feel needed, involved and invested, they are far more likely to give it a taste!

When all our efforts fail, or we simply feel like eating pizza, then we feed the kids pizza!

(Photo taken with by-the-slice pizza on Broadway, NYC)

Good luck in your efforts with getting your kids to eat!


    Stefanie Hathaway
    Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2016
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