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How to Handle Picky Eaters

Almost every parent knows the struggle of a child who just won’t eat their dinner (or lunch, or breakfast, or snack…). Picky eaters can be a challenge, but there are lots of ways to help children learn to try and like new foods.

 

First, it’s important for you to have good eating habits. As the adult in their life, your kids look to you to know how to behave. If you are open to new foods and eat a well-balanced diet, your kids will be more likely to do this too!

Don’t encourage picky eaters by preparing special meals. Plan meals that include lots of food groups, and have everyone choose from what’s on the table. This will help kids learn to like new foods more quickly and will save you a lot of time and energy. 

It’s also helpful to let kids help choose and prepare meals. This doesn’t mean that your picky eater should get to plan the menu, but do give them some choices. Try letting them choose the vegetable, grain, or protein type, and ask them to help you in the kitchen. When kids feel like they have a say in what is served, they’re much more likely to be excited about eating it. (Kids are also more likely to try new foods they’ve grown themselves. Carrots, radishes, potatoes, and snap peas are all pretty easy to grow at home. Check out this guide from NC State Extension to help you start your own garden.

Set regular meal and snack times, and don’t serve snacks outside of these times. This way, kids are more likely to actually be hungry when it’s time to eat and will be more likely to eat the food they are given.

If your child doesn’t like a food one way, they might like it another. Try serving the same foods in different ways. For example, have kids try raw, steamed, and roasted vegetables. Be sure to switch it up often so picky eaters don’t get stuck on one food they like. Also keep in mind that it can take up to 10 tries to start liking a new food, so don’t give up if it feels like you aren’t seeing big changes in your picky eater’s habits!

Also remember that children don’t need as much food as adults, so tell kids to eat until they are full instead of until their plate is empty. Teaching kids to pay attention to how hungry or full they are will help them keep eating healthy amounts of food as they get older. 


Finally, there are some foods your child just won’t like, and that’s okay! As long as they give new foods a fair chance, it’s normal if they don’t love every single food they try.


Whole-Wheat Strawberry Muffins

Makes 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400°F. Grease muffin tin with cooking spray to prevent sticking or use paper liners.
  2. Melt margarine in small saucepan or microwave. Set aside.
  3. Wash strawberries; remove stems and tops and throw away. Chop berries into small pieces and place them in a small bowl. Add eggs, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla. Mix well.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together whole-wheat flour, brown sugar, and baking soda. Mix well.
  5. Add strawberry mixture to flour mixture. Mix well until ingredients are wet. Do not overmix.
  6. Spoon the batter into muffin cups, about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Recipe from: Teen Cuisine Curriculum (Virginia Tech)


Summer Squash Succotash

This take on a classic dish brings into focus the produce of summer in a way that is equally light and satisfying. Although typically made with lima beans and bacon, this hearty vegetarian succotash features chickpeas, tomatoes and a riot of summer squash. 

Serves 4-6 

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 2 stalks scallion, chopped
  • 1 ear of corn, husked
  • 2 yellow squash, diced 
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved 
  • 1 15oz can low-sodium chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained 
  • Juice of ½ lemon  
  • ½ teaspoon paprika (optional) 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • ½  teaspoon black pepper  
  • 8-10  fresh basil leaves

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, over medium heat, add the olive oil, onions, garlic, and scallions. 
  2. While the aromatics are sautéing, slice the kernels off the cob of the corn.  
  3. Add the corn, squash, cherry tomatoes, and chickpeas to the sauté pan and stir. Cover the sauté pan and allow to cook for 3-5 minutes. 
  4. While the vegetables are cooking, juice the lemon and rough chop the basil leaves.  
  5. Remove the lid, stir in the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and paprika and finish with basil. 
  6. Cook for another minute. Serve immediately. 

Berry Blast Bars

Makes 12 bars
Serving size: 1 bar
Ingredients:

  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup strawberry jam
  • 1 cup strawberries, sliced (or other berries that are in season)

 
Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
  2. Spray square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Mix flour, oats, sugar, baking soda, salt, egg, butter, vegetable oil, and milk in a large bowl until a doughy mixture is formed.
  4. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of dough and press to the bottom of the pan.
  5. In a separate bowl, stir jam and strawberries together, spread over dough in the pan.
  6. Press the rest of the dough with your hands on top of the jam mixture.   The dough will not completely cover the top.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool for 15 minutes.
  8. Cut into 12 bars.

Calories per serving: 180

Total fat: 7 grams


All About Potatoes

Potatoes are a starchy vegetable and are widely available year-round across the country. In fact, potatoes are the most-eaten vegetable in the United States! 

The way potatoes are prepared is important. Fried potatoes, like french fries, often contain lots of unhealthy fats and salt. Boiled potatoes can lose some of their nutrients as they cook. When boiling potatoes, leave the skin on until they are fully cooked to help preserve the most nutrients possible. 

In addition to being easy to find, potatoes also contain several nutrients that our bodies need to keep working properly. 

  • Potatoes are a great source of potassium. They contain more potassium per serving than many other fruits and vegetables, including bananas! Potassium helps your nerves and muscles work properly and is important for a healthy heart. 
  • Potatoes are also full of fiber. Getting the right amount of fiber can help reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, and helps you feel full for longer.
  • Potatoes also contain vitamin C, which helps build our bones, teeth, cartilage, skin, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is also an important part of a healthy immune system.

There are many varieties of potatoes, and they all contain slightly different types and amounts of nutrients depending on their variety and where they were grown. Another difference between potato varieties is the type of cooking that works best for each! 

  • White potatoes are always a good choice if you aren’t sure what you plan to make yet. They taste good baked, boiled, and fried!
  • Russet potatoes are great for baking, but not for soups and stews as they will fall apart in the liquid. 
  • Red-skinned potatoes are great boiled, roasted, or lightly fried. 
  • Yellow potatoes are great for boiling because they hold their shape, which means they’ll do well in potato salads, soups, and stews. Yellow potatoes are also great mashed as they are softer and lighter than russet and white potatoes.
  • Blue or purple potatoes are best baked, so they don’t lose their cool colors!

Finally, sweet potatoes are plentiful in North Carolina and are a great source of Vitamin A. Try swapping regular potatoes for sweet potatoes in a recipe!

© 2021 North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

North Carolina State University
Agricultural and Human Sciences Department

Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES)