How To Get Your Kids To Eat (Almost) Anything

I have to start with this story. One time my Grammy served my mom and her siblings cow tongue for dinner. I don’t think that story needs any more elaboration. The end.

So I make no promises for cow tongue dinners. For other foods, here are some tips.

I’ve thought about this for a long time, but I’ve hesitated to go public for two reasons:

  • As soon as I do, Sam and Ty will throw a revolution and refuse everything that is not a Trader Joe’s snickerdoodle
  • My kids are undoubtedly anomalies, as they are genetically predisposed to LOVE food. We come from a long line of eaters around here. (And boy am I thankful of that, because with Sam’s allergies, he can’t afford to eat fewer foods!)

However, all kids revolt at one point or another, and all kids do this on the night when:

a)      you actually worked hard on dinner

b)      you just noticed they were looking a little scrawny, and

c)      you recently read in Parenting Magazine how essential green vegetables are in preventing cancer

And it is at this precise moment, you set down the bowl (and you know the look from a mile away) that Precious Pumpkin decides that, NO.

I. Do. Not. Want. That.

So what do you do?

Before I submit my tips of the trade, I want to offer a few general principles, which come from my mother. They have guided me through many a bleak and miserable dinner.

  • If you make eating a battle, you will never win. You can’t force them to eat.
  • You make the plate; they decide what to eat. But if they’re hungry later, too bad. They will just have to make up for it at breakfast.

I admit I was terrified the day I put these in action. Sam was about two, and had suddenly begun refusing dinner.

What if he doesn’t get one bite to eat? What if he wakes up every two hours in hunger? What if he dwindles away to nothing? And so on.

In my case, it only took about twelve hours, and the pickiness disappeared. (It will reappear periodically of course, but he’s a good eater.) For my sister (and an extremely stubborn son), it was less than a week. So I guess the bottom line is, they have to know that you’re not going to lose your temper about it, but that this is dinner, period.

That said, let’s say you’ve made something you want them to eat. Say, chicken tortilla soup with beans and peppers and onions. Here’s what I do to make it more appetizing:

1)     Watch the temperature. My kids get immediately annoyed by something that’s too hot. I take theirs out 10 minutes ahead to cool down.

2)      Add something with crunch. Ritz crackers, tortilla chips, club crackers, toast with butter diced in pieces, flour tortillas in pieces – basically something they’ll like the taste of.

3)      Add something creamy. Easy cheesy if you’re not allergic to milk…sour cream, cheese, cream cheese, half-n-half. With Sam’s dairy allergy, I’ll add coconut milk, olive oil, or a dairy-free cream cheese.

4)      Be cheerful. {Nerd Alert} Sometimes I’ll tell Sam one fun fact with every bite he takes. For example, every time he takes a bite, something we could do at Disneyland. Or something that firemen do. Or whatever. Often we’ll talk something fun coming up. Try to distract him from the yuckiness with my pleasant company!

5)      Keep reminding them of their dessert when they finish. Not in a naggy way. Sometimes I’ll do reverse psychology, and say, “Now, Ty, you can’t have all the cookies. Remember, Sam gets to have some when he finishes dinner.” I don’t think that’s reverse psychology actually. Passive aggressive? Hmmm. You get the point. Even if it’s two cookies, or some yogurt, there should be a little treat for finishing something not-so-yummy.

6)      If worst comes to worst, do the bite-for-bite. Today, for example, this evening Sam didn’t want his butternut squash pasta. So he ate one bite of that, and got one bite of apple pie. And so on.

7)     Finally, if you’re having troubles in the eating department, eliminate all snacks, juice, and milk between meals. This can work wonders. Now, I understand it’s hard to break someone of the habit from wanting calories when they’re cranky, bored, and used to having it. Believe me, I know, all too well. But just try it for three days.

But whatever you d0, don’t bother trying the following. They are in every parenting magazine ever, but they sure don’t work around here.

  • “Let them help with dinner, and they’ll want to eat it more.” What?? Sorry, but my kids are not that naive.
  • “Make it look like a fun shape, and they’ll want to eat it.” Um, no, not working here. If it looks like a car, they’ll drive it. A ball, they’ll throw it, A cute animal, they will make it roar, etc. etc.
  • Add food coloring. Please, please promise me you won’t do this. Unless you are making playdough, or icing for a birthday cake, please hold off on these yucky dyes and colorings! They are so bad for you. Plus, blue mashed potatoes? That’s just gross.




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