For Winnipeg dietitian Gina Sunderland, convincing her two sons to eat healthy food begins long before they get to the table. “Dinnertime is a struggle around here, that’s for sure,” says Sunderland. Her 12-year-old son, Reid, is taller than average, but weighs only 80 pounds in part because he’s a picky eater. “We’re always trying to do that balancing act, trying to get enough calories into him, enough different foods and enough nutrients.”
Sunderland finds that it helps to include Reid in her grocery-store trips. That way, he can pick out his own Mom-approved snacks and help plan meals that interest him. Beef stew is one of the few dishes Reid does like, so Sunderland serves it year-round, packed full of vegetables and with whole-grain bread on the side.
Make a deal
When coaxing their children to try new foods, experts rely on an age-old trick: Pairing it with a tried-and-true favourite. In Taylor’s home, that means adding chocolate chips, rather than blueberries, to whole wheat pancakes so her younger son will eat them.
Lianne Phillipson-Webb, a registered nutritionist whose practice is based in Toronto, convinced her five-year-old daughter, Hadley, to try breaded cod by serving it with a beloved side dish: lemony green beans. “She had a bean after she put the fish in her mouth and ended up eating all of the fish—by eating more green beans.”
In the same spirit, Phillipson-Webb uses a game called Upside-Down Bowl Night. She places a food her daughters enjoy, such as a cookie or fruit sorbet, on a plate, covers it with an upside-down bowl, then tops the bowl with something she wants them to eat, such as raw vegetables or fresh fruit. “They have to eat what’s on top before they can reveal the bottom,” she says.
At Sunderland’s house, the two-bite, 10-minute rule reigns supreme: Her sons must try at least two bites of everything on the table, and sit at the table for at least 10 minutes. “I’ve even said that if things are so bad that you can’t swallow that bite, then you can excuse yourself quietly, go to the garbage and get rid of it,” she says. “I’ve found that has helped us to really increase the repertoire of foods Reid will eat.”
Our experts know that children’s tastes shift frequently, so they reintroduce foods their children have rejected, knowing they may change their minds anytime. For instance, Taylor’s son Ben had steadfastly refused turnips for years — but recently spooned some onto his plate, without any prompting at all from his mom.
In the meantime, if you’re really stuck—perhaps your daughter will not eat anything green—that doesn’t necessarily mean kale is off the menu. You may just have to hide it.
The secret weapon: smoothies
They may look and taste like a milkshake, but smoothies can also be secretly loaded with the good-for-you foods your kids won’t eat off a plate. That’s why the nutrition experts we consulted love their blenders.