12 Golden Rules for Tackling Picky Eaters

Ok, so these are our 12 Golden Rules. The things we know work, absolutely and without a doubt. It takes time and effort, that is for sure, and it may seem extensive (it kind of is) but it's easier to apply these rules than it is to have a picky eater for the next 18 years.
You are probably naturally implementing a bunch of these rules in your home as it is. And sometimes you won't be able to apply all 12 ALL THE TIME. Totally cool. Just knowing where to begin is all you need. Start by starting!

1. Model good behavior. Kids are more likely to eat the type of foods you are eating. If you are adventurous with food, they are more likely to mimic that behavior.

2. "No thank you bite," you don't have to eat it but you have to try it. This is a good method for older children that can be reasoned with. It pays in the long run to be focused on the effort made in trying something new. Give them incentive to try again later. It can take a child 7-12 times before they acquire the taste, but once they do it will feel like you won the super bowl.

3. Keep meals fun and free of anxiety. This can be a really difficult one for us parents. Tell stories, ask them about their day, sing songs, create meal time traditions and most of all be present with your little ones. This will create a lifetime of childhood memories and a real love of food. When a power struggle is created around meal times a negative association with food can develop.

4. Repetition is KEY. This is one of the most important rules. If you want your child to acquire the taste of a new food, try, try, try again! (In small, unthreatening portions, free of anxiety); persistence and patience is vital and pays off, often just when you think of giving up.

5. Talk about the food, how it tastes, smells, feels. Use all five senses. Create a curious and joyous sensory experience.

6. Try the same ingredients in different preparations. Broil, sauté, grill, bake, steam, mash, puree, dice, you get the idea. Changing the preparation transforms the texture and flavor. A chewy, sweet oven roasted tomato tastes different than a juicy, seedy raw tomato. Which textures do your kids like? In order to find out there often has to be culinary exploration.

7. Teach your kids to fill up on healthy stuff. Avoid the habit of serving unhealthy snacks after an unfinished meal (or before).

8. Teach them to listen to their bodies. Urging little ones to clean their plates is so tempting. We want them to have full bellies and panic often ensues if we think they haven't had enough. This is normal for us parents. But by letting them stop when they're done we teach them to listen to their bodies which prevents over eating in the long run.

9. Water and milk are the best options for kids - everything else in moderation. Juice is full of sugar and for picky eaters this often satisfies their appetite before meals and derails your attempts to keep them well nourished.

10. Cook together! Dub your child 'Kitchen Helper.' Children are more likely to try foods that they've had a hand in making.

11. Fresh non-processed ingredients are best. Junk food and processed foods have preservatives that are highly addictive and cause type 2 diabetes. Even if your child is picky and thin, it can be easy to assume that these processed foods won't have a long term affect. Food preferences begin early in life. Breaking this processed food addiction can be very difficult. It's not enough to have their bodies filled with food, these bodies need to be filled with nourishment. We know that fresh ingredients aren't as inexpensive and that being on a budget is tough. Use frozen foods and buy in bulk when possible. All processed and junk foods should be limited and used in moderation.

12. Not a punishment nor a prize. "If you eat all your broccoli, I'll give you ice cream." We've ALL used this trick. It's a hard one to pass up. Recent scientific studies have shown that rewarding children this way will zap their motivation to maintain those healthy choices in the long run. Plus, this method teaches kids that some foods are good (ice cream) and some foods are bad (broccoli). We're not saying to not give your kids ice cream, we're saying avoid the bribes.

Genius Mom Idea

You know when you are out and you just see some really put together mom with a great idea? Saw some genius mom slice open an avocado and start to spoon it out to her toddler at a park bench. It looked GOOD! But the genius was in the way she sliced the avocado, just the top so that she could hold it like a cup. Totally stealing that idea.

Do you guys have any genius mom ideas to share? We can't wait to hear!

Sudden Change in Appetite?

It's a knee jerk reaction to panic when your child suddenly stops eating as much as they used to. Our first thought; they need to be force fed! (Yeah, that one always works out). Truth is, your child's body might be telling you something. Often a sudden change in appetite can signal an oncoming cold or virus before other symptoms begin to show. Start filling up on fluids and offer plenty of fruit to help with hydration. In our experience, children are more open to eating fruit when feeling ill. Think jarred peaches, kiwis, mango, watermelon- sweet, succulent and juicy.

Quick Gluten Free Snack Ideas

We've been getting some questions about gluten free snack suggestions. Here are some of our favorites for your kiddies. Freeze dried strawberries from Trader Joes, traditional apples and bananas with peanut butter, rice crackers with hummus. All healthy, quick and delicious! Go to town!

Fruit Sculptures


Looking for something fun and creative to do? How about making some of these! Time in the kitchen together doesn't have to mean cooking. This may even get your kiddos to not only eat fruit but to try new varieties they've never tasted. Get creative with after school snacks!

Are they Not a Fan of Breakfast? Smoothies!

Lots of kids (and adults for that matter) aren't fans of breakfast. Yet, we all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, blah, blah, blah. Point is, we're all scared of our kids starting their day without full little bellies. The answer is SMOOTHIES.

Here are a couple recipes to try, go ahead and just eyeball measurements.

Cinnamon Almond Smoothie
almond milk
almond butter (we like the raw Trader Joe's almond butter)

Tropical Island Smoothie
coconut milk, unsweetened
frozen pineapple
frozen banana
frozen mango

Green Smoothie (call it something fun like Monster's Inc. smoothie or Incredible Hulk...)

Super Hero Shake

Texture or Flavor?

Ok, lets talk about texture and flavor for a minute because getting a handle on what flavors and textures your kids like is a game changer when it comes to acquiring tastes.

It's NEVER as simple as "I Don't Like It."

It's either a texture or a flavor problem.

How do we solve the flavor and texture mystery? Ask your kids why they don't like the food, OR in turn, why they like those foods that they love. We once heard a boy with special needs we were nannying say that he didn't like peas because they were too juicy. Interesting that he would experience peas that way. It made us realize that by transforming the pea, into a split pea soup for example, would change the texture completely.

So get all Nancy Drew about it tonight at dinner, see what kind of culinary mysteries you can solve!

Homemade Pretzels

At a loss for a fun activity with your kids in the kitchen? This is a fantastic snack and a great rainy day activity. You can buy the dough pre made or make it yourself. The fun part is coming up with the pretzel shapes. Bet your kids can come up with some other fun shapes!

(Makes 8 small, 4 medium, or 2 large pretzels)

1 pound (approximately) ready-made whole wheat dough
Water for boiling
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil.

3. Meanwhile, separate the dough into even size balls (depending on the size pretzel you want).

4. Roll each ball of dough out into a long even tube.

5. Cross one end of the tube over the other (making the tube into a circle with its ends making an x shape).

6. Twist the ends again, making the x shape into a twist.

7. Flip the twisted ends into the center of the circle and press the ends onto the circle’s sides.

8. Boil the pretzels for 30 seconds then transfer them with a slotted spoon onto a non-stick baking sheet.

9. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt (if desired). Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes (depending on the size of the pretzels), or until golden brown.

'Kettle Corn' Pumpkin Seeds

WE LOVE THE FALL!!! Have you all gone to the pumpkin patch yet?? Do your kids like to get a big pumpkin or a little one? Carving pumpkins is one of those traditions that stay with you for life. Baking pumpkin seeds is just the icing on the cake. Try this recipe to change up an old classic.

(Serves two kiddos)

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons agave
kosher salt to taste

1. Stir the pumpkin seeds and agave together. Spread evenly onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

2. Sprinkle with salt.

3. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly before eating.

Wacky Watermelon Cooler

Ever had agua fresco? It's basically delicious fruit water. Perfectly hydrating for those kiddies on a hot summer day without the added sugar and calories. This is a fun one to make, takes a bit of elbow grease but will be a big hit for everyone in the family. We recommend making a big batch for a fun summer party or get together. It's also a great activity to do in the kitchen with your kiddos.

(Serves 5 kiddos)

3 cups cubed watermelon
3 cups cold filtered water
Squeeze of lemon

1. Blend all ingredients together.

2. Use a strainer to seperate pulp from liquid.

3. Chill in the fridge, stir and serve!

Toast with Olive Oil

Something has to be said for the snack you don't have to cook. 100% whole wheat bread with olive oil is the magic combination and a healthy alternative to butter. It's super tasty and keeps those little bellies full for a long time. This is great for breakfast as well as snack and a big hit amongst the little kid crowd.  

(Serves 1 kiddo)

1 slice whole wheat bread
1-2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Toast the bread.

2. Drizzle while warm with olive oil.

Black Beans and Rice

This meal is a must in any house. The black bean is one of nature's super foods and is perfect for filling those little bellies with protein and fiber. It is fast, easy, healthy and has a ton of versatility. Make with brown rice and you've got a great side to any meal. Throw it in a whole wheat tortilla to make a burrito. 

Now a word on textures... The texture of a bean can often be difficult for a child. We suspect it's the skin of the bean that can throw little ones off. If your child doesn't seem to like the texture, check out our pureed soup and our bean dip for a smoother consistency. Enjoy!

(Makes about 4 servings)

2 cans of black beans
2 large cloves of garlic
1/2 chopped onion
1/2 chopped green bell pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
4 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Add minced garlic, chopped onion and chopped green pepper to medium sized pot on medium heat.

2. When garlic, onions and peppers have cooked down, add remaining ingredients and let simmer for 10 minutes. 

3. Before plating stir in the 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.

4. Remove bay leaf and serve with brown or white rice. Enjoy!