When it comes to kids’ health, parents have plenty to worry about. Are your kids getting enough sleep and exercise? Too much screen time and sugar? And why are they “allergic” to vegetables? Mealtime can be an especially troublesome spot. Picky eating tends to peak in the toddler and preschool years, but it’s a problem some parents face all the way through the teens. (I have a nine-year-old who is adamant about what he doesn’t like, which would be fine if some of those foods are ones he’s never even tried.)
A study published in the journal Nutrients looked at whether kids who were picky eaters at age three stayed that way through adolescence and what effects it might have on their health. The results? There’s good news and bad news.
The Good News
Researchers found that children who were picky eaters at age three did still eat less fruit, vegetables, and meat at the age of ten than their peers. But by thirteen, dietary differences were beginning to shrink between the picky and non-picky groups. So it seems most kids do outgrow picky eating.
The Bad News
While all the kids in the study were getting enough protein in their diets, most youngsters were not eating enough fruit and vegetables, even the ones who weren’t particularly picky.1,2 (The Centers for Disease Control recommends that kids aged 2-18 eat 1-2 cups of fruit and 1-3 cups of vegetables every day, depending on age, gender, and physical activity level.3)
Is there a fix for picky eating?
Most parents would love for their kids to be adventurous eaters. It tends to lead to better nutrition, but unfortunately, not everyone is open to trying new foods. Picky eaters often miss out on many essential nutrients because they’re scared to deviate from their favorite comfort foods. It can be a challenge to introduce healthy fruits and vegetables into a picky eater’s diet. Luckily, we have a few tips to help you incorporate healthier ingredients into your picky eater’s diet. They might not become adventurous, but rest assured mealtime will mean good nutrition!
Add Fruits and Vegetables To Their Favorite Dishes
A great way to introduce healthier foods into a picky eater’s diet is to add them to a dish they already know and love. Add finely chopped vegetables to classic mac and cheese to boost their intake of powerful healthy compounds. Put sliced bananas on their PB&J sandwich; bananas are high in potassium, which supports nerve and muscle function. Make whole-grain zucchini bread; you can even add dark chocolate to it to make it extra kid-friendly while also adding antioxidants. Smoothies are a tried-and-true avenue to pack in extra nutrients through the addition of nut butters and vegetables—without ever asking your child to try a new food.
Make Healthy Versions of Comfort Foods and Snacks
This is a go-to in my home kitchen. If your child is a picky eater, sometimes you have to meet them in the middle. There are loads of healthy substitutions you can apply to recipes to lower the fat and sugar while raising the level of nutrients. Some are simple, like switching white bread for wheat, while others are a little more out-of-the-box, like using applesauce instead of butter when baking. Speaking of baking, pumpkin muffins are a big hit in my household.
These days, an air fryer can be a great tool for appealing to the tastes of picky eating children. Rather than making french fries in the deep fryer or the frozen kind in the oven (which are still deep-fried prior to freezing), you can make your own healthier fries in the air fryer; try sweet potato instead of white. You can also bread your own chicken tenders or zucchini strips and “fry” them; then serve with homemade yogurt ranch, a great swap for the kid-favorite bottled ranch.
Cook with them
A hungry picky eater can be a conundrum: After a long day at school, will your child be so hungry that they’ll eat whatever you make, or will they refuse it and leave their bellies empty and their mood sour? A good trick to soften picky eaters is to have their help and input while cooking. Compromise with your picky eater and let them choose which fruits and vegetables will be included. Don’t worry about serving sizes. This is more an exercise in what your child eats than how much. By focusing on the fun of learning to cook, you might just find your kids open to foods that might normally make them turn up their noses.
More Strategies to Combat Picky Eating
Patience is key when dealing with picky eaters. There’s a chance it’s a passing phase, so avoid getting into struggles over food that can make the problem worse. Rather than forcing your kids to clear their plates or bribing them with dessert, just keep introducing small portions of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and model healthy eating yourself.
Another strategy: Consider what your child’s objection to the food is. If it’s texture, a kid who won’t touch steamed kale or spinach may happily drink it in a smoothie (although you might have to begin in stealth mode by not telling them it’s in there!). Similarly, kids who like crunchy foods may prefer raw carrots with dip (think: homemade yogurt dip or nut butter) to cooked carrots, while those who prefer everything soft might go for a baked sweet potato. If your child is big on snacks but is drawn to the fun packaging of many unhealthy store brands, try making your own version at home. For example, instead of high-sugar yogurt with cookie crumbles, try plain yogurt drizzled with honey and sprinkled with mini chocolate chips and crushed graham crackers.
Juice Plus+ Can Help
Despite your best efforts, there may be plenty of times when your kids just aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables Juice Plus+ Fruit and Vegetable Blend chewables and capsules deliver concentrated plant-based nutrition that help you bridge the gap between what you should eat, and what you do eat, every day.
The Family Health Study has found that once families take the small step of adding Juice Plus+ to their daily regimen, other healthy changes follow. Families enrolled in the Healthy Starts for Families program eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more water, eat less fast food, and drink fewer sugary drinks than they did before enrolling. And if you register your child in the study, you can receive Juice Plus+ Fruit and Vegetable Blend chewables for your child free for up to a year, as well as support, recipes, and tips to help you focus on the four pillars of health: fitness, nutrition, hydration, and sleep.