If you added up all the minutes I spend every day trying to cajole or force my preschooler to eat, it would probably amount to a part-time job. And I have tried every trick in the book. Smoothies to disguise vegetables? Tried it. Chicken cut into cute little shapes? Not so popular. Renaming the food? (For example, broccoli becomes “dinosaur trees.”) Very short-lived solution. Over the past few years, I have learned to keep a sense of humor and a spare jar of sunflower butter on hand. But I’ve also learned a few tricks that really work (most of the time), at least in our family. If you have a picky toddler too, please comment and share what worked or didn’t work for your snack-time!
First, ask yourself, “Is my child actually hungry?” Strategies 1 – 4 are about helping them work up an appetite. I am always amazed by the transformation that happens when my boys are hungry. Suddenly the food doesn’t look so yucky anymore! Sometimes we just have to drag them away from the TV and trick them into running around.
1. Play tag or hide and seek. Ride bikes. Kick a ball. Dig in the dirt. Just get them outdoors and moving!
2. Go for a walk. Do you need an exciting destination to convince them to go out of the house? It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Try walking to a kid landmark such as a post box, a fire hydrant, a pretty flower bed, a garden fountain, or an interesting tree. Yes, this really works!
3. Visit the playground. Some days I dread the struggle of getting them dressed and out the door, but even so, it ends up saving time. Just think– going out to play now means not wasting time later with a power struggle over snack. It means my kids don’t spend the rest of the day feeling grumpy. While you are fishing the lost sneaker out from under the couch today, just remember: in the end, it’s worth it. (Caveat: Picnics rarely work out for us. The call of the playground is just too overpowering. But when we come home, then they are ready to eat!)
4. If it’s wet or cold, turn on the radio and dance up an appetite! I’ve even been known to let them jump on the bed. That one is totally your call, of course.
Some kids get really absorbed in whatever game they are playing and would rather starve and wet their pants than take a break. My son will say, “I’m already full!” even when he has not had a bite to eat all day. Ideas 5 – 9 are my sneaky-mom strategies for incorporating snack-time into the activity of the moment.
5. Art-time: While they are painting or drawing, work alongside them and make your own edible art. String cheese, apple or orange slices, raisins… think of the design possibilities! Here is a photo of my latest creation. It got the desired reaction, too– that’s my youngest son going for seconds.
6. Role playing games: If your son is a pirate today, invite him to a pirate tea-party. Tea parties are not just for princesses and teddy bears anymore! You don’t have to make themed food. Just put out real snacks and milk or water on some little dishes, and then invite your kids to join you for tea while staying in character as a superhero or veterinarian, etc. You can have some hilarious conversations with this one, too. When Darth Vader came to tea at my house recently, we discussed the weather on the Death Star and the safety features of the new X-wing fighters.
7. Races with cars. You may want to suggest moving the game into the kitchen if you don’t want them to eat in the bedroom. Join the race, but bring your own unique car– a frozen yogurt pop makes a good car, for instance. You’d be amazed at how fast your plastic bowl of grapes can zoom down the ramp! A hungry child will most likely want to eat your car, and you just smile and let it happen.
8. Lego-land. Bring the building project into the kitchen and build a supermarket or a restaurant next to your child’s project. Nonchalantly put the snack food inside the building. (Keep an eye out for toy tarantulas who may try to rob the restaurant of that tasty snack!)
9. Story-time. Offer to read books to your kids while they eat. It sure beats having the TV on, and it helps them sit still. I learned this trick from my son’s preschool.
10. Suggest playing chef. My 4-year-old loves to “make his own recipe,” which usually means that he mashes up a banana and pours on a little milk, cinnamon, vanilla, etc. If you microwave this concoction for a few seconds, it turns into a kind of pudding, and, believe it or not, he actually eats it. Offer whatever healthy ingredients that you have on hand that will go together, and then they may surprise you by eating it or at least asking to eat something else.
11. You can also plan your own snack idea and enlist their help in preparing it: stirring, dumping in the ingredients, etc. This is a tried and true way to get them interested in the food. I am always surprised that the simple act of stirring a pot of noodles by himself makes my son think they taste so much better. Here’s a kid-friendly snack that’s popular in our house: ants on a log. Cut celery sticks, spread them with peanut butter (or sunflower butter), and then stick on a line of raisin “ants.”