Making a meal

7 Ways to Make Mealtimes More Fun and Interesting for Picky Eaters

No matter how long and hard you work in the kitchen to come up with delicious meals, there may still be a few people in your family who might not appreciate your efforts: your young picky eaters.

If your kids’ poor nutrition and eating habits are sore topics in your home, don’t fret; you are not alone. Parents usually worry about what their little ones are eating and not eating on a daily basis.

7 Ways To Make Mealtimes More Fun and Interesting

Improving Your Children’s Diet and Eating Habits

Knowing the different food groups for children and incorporating them into their meals is a good start to ensuring they are eating healthily every day. However, you also need to entice them to go to the table willingly during mealtimes – something that can be  really hard if you have the fussiest eaters in town.

You can help your little ones be more receptive and adventurous when they are at the table by making mealtimes more fun and interesting. Here are some tips to accomplish this:

1.    Include your kids during meal planning, grocery shopping, and prepping 

Getting suggestions from your kids regarding the meals you want to cook next week can give you an assurance that they will eat whatever is served on the table. But to be sure that they will eat something healthy during mealtime, come up with nutritious menu items they can choose from first.

Have your children accompany you when you go to the supermarket as well. Let them put some veggies, fruits, and other items they like in the cart. Take this time to educate them about the nutritional content of some produce, how they can be cooked, and how they taste.

Lastly, allow your kids to help you when you are preparing the meals. Give them simple tasks such as washing and manually peeling veggies. If your children are old enough to handle more complex tasks, have them chop up and slice some produce, too, after showing them how. 

When kids are involved in planning and preparing meals, they will be more interested and even excited to eat the dishes they helped make. They will have a more positive attitude towards food and eating in the long run as well.

2.    Give your children options during mealtime

To help your kids find something to look forward to during mealtime, give them options to choose from. This means serving two or three kinds of vegetable side dishes or fresh fruits for dessert. 

By giving your children options, you ensure they will eat something nutritious. They won’t feel forced to eat something they don’t like, too.

If your kids still do not like any of the options, don’t be a short-order cook. Do not prepare a separate meal for them after they reject the original meal since this can further promote picky eating. 

3.    Make your dishes colorful

Color never fails to fascinate kids. And by including bright, colorful natural ingredients to dishes you serve, you also ensure they get a lot of nutrients in the process.

Carrots, purple cauliflower, beets, yellow tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, and mangoes are foods that are healthy and look appealing. Add colorful ingredients to pasta dishes or serve them as sides. If you’re serving oatmeal and cereals, place dishes of colorful fruits on the table and let your kids choose the ones they want to add to their bowl of cereal.

You can also add organic food coloring to create pink mashed potatoes or purple cauliflower puree if these colors appeal to your little ones. You can also let them choose the colors they want and add the food coloring to the dish you are cooking.

Make meals fun

4.    Bank on your kids’ interests and favorites

Aside from knowing your children’s favorite colors, it pays to be aware of their other preferences and interests. Are they fond of particular shapes? Use cookie cutters to cut up fruits, veggies, and cheese into their favorite shapes. They will definitely have a hard time not picking up these fresh, healthy treats.

Consider buying plates, bowls, utensils, glasses, and mugs decorated with your kids’ favorite cartoon characters. They will be more excited to go to the kitchen or dining room when they know they’ll be using their favorite dining ware at the table. 

5.    Serve food differently 

Changing the way you present dishes can make a huge difference in whetting the appetite of your kids.

If you’re having a hard time getting your little ones to eat fresh fruits and veggies, get some kid-safe kebab sticks, and make fruit and vegetable kebabs.

Kids love dipping food as well. Serve fruit and veggie sticks (or cut them up in the shapes they like) with a variety of dips such as yogurt, hummus, peanut butter, avocado, and creamy spinach.

Miniaturized foods are always interesting and fun. Create mini calzones using pizza dough. Prepare an assortment of fillings and let your children choose what they want for their calzones.

6.    Give your dishes fun names

Assigning fun, crazy names to food may seem juvenile to you but your kids will love it.

Start by creating silly names for certain vegetables and fruits they don’t like. Once your kids get into the habit of these funny food names, allow them to come up with their own fun monikers for other dishes, fruits, and vegetables.

When kids also play a role in naming dishes and foods, they will be more interested to eat them as well.

Fun kids meal

7.    Create irresistible meals

Lastly, mix fun names and interesting presentations to make a meal truly irresistible.

Place broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus pieces in a bed of mashed potatoes and sprinkle on bits of meat and cheese to make an edible treat you can call “Forest for Hungry Giants.”

If you’re serving pizza, put all the ingredients, dishes, and utensils on the kitchen island or bar and place a sign that says “Pizza Bar”. Tell your kids to create their pizzas only at this designated area. Once they’re done, they can go to the table. It’s like eating at a restaurant in your own home.

When you have picky eaters, you will need a lot of patience in helping modify their eating habits. Couple this with some research, creativity, and hard work, and you will certainly be successful in helping your kids have an easier time trying and exploring new foods.

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  1. Elize Swanepoel

    Great ideas and article!

    JD is not really a picky eater. It’s just sometimes he doesn’t want to eat.

    When he’s hungry, he will eat without any problems. I try to liven things up and make it interesting.

    Like two nights ago. He didn’t want to eat stew and rice with us, but half an hour later he said he was hungry.

    I made him some squiggly shaped chicken & potato fries. He loves them because of the funny shape and I always put a dollop of tomato sauce in his plate. He loves dipping his sausages or chippies in tomato sauce.

    A few nights ago we ate hot dogs. He didn’t care much for the rolls, but I mixed a bit of tomato sauce and mustard to see if he will eat it with his sausage. He asked for seconds … and thirds (of the sauce). 🙂

    Kids can be funny at times, and they can eat the strangest things and combination of things.

    As long as he eats, I’m happy. He doesn’t always want to eat what we eat, but I’ll rather let him eat his creations than skipping a meal all together, if this makes sense.

    I love the ideas on the pictures. Those little egg & tomato mushrooms are adorable and I’m particularly impressed with the veggie crocodile.

    When JD is starting his new school, I have to pack him a lunchbox for afternoon snacking. I’ll have to be creative in order to keep him happy, but I look forward to this new challenge.

  2. A lot of mothers I know struggled with this.

    Here are the methods and results from their tries:

    1. Force it. “Eat this, or…” So that generally worked. They ate it. Wasn’t pretty though. The key to this one is doing it ONCE, then waiting a long time before attempting it again. They may ask for the food again, or they may not. I don’t like this one, but it is sometimes useful for getting over the hump of actually trying a food, arriving at the realization it’s not all that bad to just try, and there is a potential upside of actually liking the food.

    2. Sneak it in. Combine with other food basically. They may well eject it, and give you “that look”, but then again, they might just eat it too. Dilute the new food heavy at first, backing off until they either reject, or reach a point where that food is OK. I like this one a lot for toddlers. It’s harmless and can be attempted many times with few worries.

    3. Deny all other food. I don’t like this one. Not recommended for kids at any age. It’s essentially a power struggle, and those do not end well anyway.

    4. Present the food in many forms. Often things can be frozen, fried, blended, etc… Texture can be a big deal. Intriguing textures sometimes break the ice. Worth a shot.

    If foods are rejected at a very young age, all is not lost.

    I personally love the “pizza bar” idea in the article.

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