When my partner and I first started dating, his two boys had a much different palate than they do now. Dinner outings always included some variation of chicken nuggets, cheese quesadilla, or pizza… and that’s about it. Anytime we encouraged the boys to try something new, they threw tantrums. It was exhausting!
After we moved in together, the boys’ diets were often the catalyst for arguments between me and my partner. He felt guilty sending the boys to bed without having finished their dinner, or offering dessert to one son but not the other. There was lots of friction and tension surrounding dinnertime… we did not see eye to eye.
Fast forward to today, and our six- and four-and-a-half year olds have some of the most diverse palates of any kid their age. I’d be lying if I said it was an easy journey getting here… but it has been totally worth it. Now, dinner is a fun and exciting time for us to bond together as a family and enjoy trying new things together!
(Disclaimer: I am not a medical or health professional. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your child’s nutrition, health, or behavior.)
Tip #1: Start Small
When we first agreed to start changing our kids’ dietary habits, we made small incremental changes at every meal time. While some parents may opt to dive headfirst into a plate full of broccoli and asparagus, we knew that tactic wouldn’t work with our kids.
Example: one of the boys’ lunches, pictured above. At the time, both of our kiddos loved chicken nuggets (and though our family is now vegan, we still purchased this crowd favorite) and strawberries. Without depriving them of these two foods that they loved, we added in a new third element: pasta salad.
This particular pasta salad contained edamame, corn, tomatoes, artichoke, and Daiya vegan cheese… all tossed in a creamy Italian vinaigrette. At the time, this was an incredibly adventurous food for our kiddos.
Both boys employed entirely different strategies when it came to trying new things. Braidan (our oldest) opted to eat the pasta salad first, saving his favorites for last. Colton (our youngest) quickly gobbled up his strawberries and chicken nuggets… then painstakingly nibbled on his pasta salad.
There is no “right” way to do it. But, by taking small steps, you can build your kids’ confidence in trying something new, while also offering them the comfort of something familiar.
Tip #2: Stand Your Ground
In the beginning, there will be lots of fussing and probably a lot of tears. Your kids will make you feel like an absolute monster for putting them through this level of torture. They won’t even look at you.
It was hard (especially for my partner) during this stage. We had a few stern rules: if you wanted dessert, you had to finish dinner. If you didn’t finish dinner, you couldn’t ask for any snacks or treats for the rest of the evening. And, most importantly, you had to at least try everything.
Sometimes, one of the kiddos would manage to scrape through everything on his plate and get rewarded with dessert… but his brother, on the other hand, came up short. When this happened, all they had to do was give their father a pouty face and he was tempted to cave. (And I, on the other hand, would become the “bad guy” for insisting that we stand firm.)
This is a phase, and it is 100% temporary. For us, it took several dozen meals before it clicked and the boys “got it”. But trust me, I know: those several dozen meals are some of the toughest. Just know: This Too Shall Pass.
Tip #3: Reward Good "Food Tasters"
This piece is so, so, so important. Don’t forget to praise and reward your kids for trying new things! Whether you’re eating at home, or trying new things while dining out, your little ones will appreciate the attention and positive reinforcement for their bravery.
On our way back from a family vacation to Durango, we made an overnight pitstop in Flagstaff. There’s a vegan breakfast joint there called WHyld ASS that we decided to try… but there was one problem: they didn’t have any of the boys’ “traditional” breakfast favorites, like buttermilk pancakes or chocolate chip waffles.
Without divulging any details, we ordered them some buckwheat pancakes topped with a coconut carob sauce and raspberry compote. (In kid language: WTF?)
And, much to our surprise, they gobbled ’em right up! At this point, we had been trying new foods for a few months and they were beginning to gain confidence. They didn’t even flinch at these non-traditional pancakes! As a reward for finishing their entire breakfast, they got to pick out a sweet treat to take on the car ride home.
Tip #4: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Sometimes, this process will feel like you’ve taken one step forward… and then suddenly, you find yourself taking two steps back.
One day, you may finally reach a food milestone and get your kids to try (and seemingly love) broccoli. And then the next day, they’re throwing another tantrum when you add that green leafy vegetable to their plates.
No two days will be the same, and that’s okay. It’s a process. You’re not perfect, and neither are your kids. Breathe in, breathe out. Give the broccoli to the dog, wash the dishes, and try again the following day.
It’s not worth sweating the small stuff. This truly is a marathon, not a sprint. But if you stick with it, you’re bound to have some of the best food tasters and most eclectically diverse eaters in the entire neighborhood!
A short list of foods our boys now eat (and love!):
- pasta salad
- vegetable soup
- tofu nuggets
- sweet potatoes
- vegan chili