Give kids a heads-up
Kids don’t do well with food surprises. Given the choice, they’ll go for what they know and what’s familiar. So when you eat out, give kids a little warning: find the kids’ menu online, discuss the dishes and what they might like to try. Got a fussy eating toddler? A study carried out at the University of Reading found that exposure to pictures of fruits and vegetables could also be a key factor to encouraging kids to sample new tastes. In other words, show as well as tell.
Encourage grazing with a ‘sharing plate’
If your kids aren’t 100% sure on trying something new, order it for yourself and invite them to share from your plate. Kids will often be more inclined to try new foods when there’s less pressure to eat (and finish) it. Plus they’re generally always more enthusiastic about what other people / mum or dad are eating.
If your kids insist on going for their usual pasta dish (etc), agree to this but ask them to consider a couple of side dishes that they wouldn’t normally go for.
Don’t bribe with dessert! If you do, you’re getting into ‘good food / bad food’ territory and creating the message that dessert is a reward and the other food is a punishment. I talk more about the science behind this here.
Cook at home
It’s hard to expect kids to change their eating habits just because they’re in a restaurant and “we’ve paid lots of money for this…” So create an ongoing interest in food by cooking with them as often as time and patience allows. It’s always more enjoyable to eat out with kids who are already enthused about food.
Make sure they’re hungry! It sounds obvious but a hungrier kid is more willing to try something new. On that note, issue a ‘snacks embargo’ approx two hours before any main course.
Don’t insist that they ‘eat it all’
Remember, you’re trying to encourage experimentation and variety, not finishing ‘every last scrap’ (which is hardly the healthiest food habit anyway).
Dress up – make it an occasion
You’re eating out? Build up the excitement, get in the mood, get dressed up and encourage the idea of doing something new and different. This ‘out of our comfort zone’ and ‘something new’ vibe should carry you through to ordering the food.
Introduce the Polite Bite Basically they’ve gotta try it before they say no. But if they do say no, respect that (and praise them up for trying it). If they try at least something new (and don’t spit it out) they’re still eligible for dessert (in my book at least).
Get them to bring a foodie friend
You’ll be amazed at what kids will try if they see their best mate tucking into it with gusto.
The power of choice is huge
Choose two or three options that you’re okay with and let the kids decide which one to go for. They’ll feel more in control and more likely to eat what’s in front of them.
Make it fun Create a sense of fun and mischief by letting them order for you – and you order for them. Everyone must eat what’s ordered.
Set an example
Basically if you eat well and from a broad range of foods, chances are your kids will too. Be a good role model and try new things yourself. Don’t expect your kids to eat what you won’t. Enthusiasm is contagious.
Fiona Faulkner is founder of the award-winning www.toddlerchef.com and author of 25 Foods Kids Hate and How To Get Them Eating 24. Nicknamed ‘the Harry Potter of Vegetables’ (ITV) she has a unique talent in getting kids to eat their greens (reds and yellows). Twitter: @toddlerchef. More of Fiona’s work can also be found at www.fionafaulkner.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @fiona_faulkner