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10 Golden Rules to Raise a Good Eater

Updated on October 27, 2016
Robie Benve profile image

Born and raised in Italy, Robie loves good, healthy food (even better if it's easy to cook). She proudly raised 2 kids that eat everything.


Raising a Non-Picky Eater

Both my husband and I love food, and we like to taste any cuisine. We have raised two adventurous eaters, now ages 10 and 14, that are open to try new things. They didn’t always like them at first, but they always gave it a try.

You can call our approach old fashioned, it is actually very close to the no-nonsense and no-waste philosophy that my grandparents had. But we believe that's our responsibility, as parents, to teach our children the value of good nutrition, while minimizing waste.

Children Always Test Boundaries

Every parent knows it: children love to challenge our rules and try to get their way and push the limit a little further, either by negotiating incessantly, throwing tantrums, or refusing to do something.

Being a parent is challenging and it takes a lot of willpower to be consistent and not cave in.

Are they really too sick to go to swim practice? Do they really dislike the taste of tomatoes? Or are they only trying to test us? One of the challenges for all parents is learning to recognize when your children’s excuses are legitimate.

When it comes to food especially, how do you know whether they honestly "don't like it", or if they are just being picky?

10 Golden Rules on Child Eating Habits

If you have small children and you find yourself nervous about what they are willing to try and eat, you may want to take a look at the "rules" below - and, if it's of any extra help, rest assure you are not alone in the parent-child struggle to healthy eating.

You can do it! :)

Children are more likely to taste and like food that they helped prepare.
Children are more likely to taste and like food that they helped prepare. | Source

1. Most Foods Are Acquired Taste

When you introduce a new food it will most likely take your child (or even an adult) a few tries before being able to appreciate the new taste.

So it’s OK to offer only a spoonful of new foods, alongside some other better received choices. For some foods, I’m the only person eating them in the household. For example: my husband does not like peas and zucchini. While he does not express his dislike in front of the kids, he does not take any. So I cook them for myself, and offer to everybody each time. Sometimes the children taste them, sometime they don’t; I never force them.

But just seeing me eating them with such appetite and pleasure, I’m sure they’ll grow on them someday, as fresh salad, mushrooms, lentil soup, octopus, etc. already did.

2. Do as You Preach

Be a role model, and be the first to eat a variety of healthy foods.

Consistency is important, and not only with food. Children will pick up immediately if you are being a hypocrite that does not follow his/her own rules.

If you ask them to taste all foods, but you are picky when it comes to your own menu, then there is not much hope they’ll do any different. If an adult in the house is a picky eater, the children will follow those footsteps in a heartbeat.

Serve food with a smile :)
Serve food with a smile :) | Source

3. Make the Eating Experience Fun

Eating is necessary for our lives, and we have to do it every day, several times a day, to be able to function. As parents, we strive to make bedtime a joyful and calming routine, but often we forget about associating food to positive feeling.

When my son was a toddler he would stop eating after a few bites, but I soon figured out that if I was making it a game he would finish all, and ask for more. I was pretending I did not see him stealing food from the fork I was holding, and I would make it a math game counting the bites left and making him giggle when I found out one more was missing. Or I would make rhyming stories continuing at each bite.

Bottom line is, he had fun, he ate anything I served him, and he is now a healthy and adventurous eater.

4. Don’t Be a Short Order Cook

Never force children to eat if they don’t feel like it, but if they are hungry they should eat what is served.

Prepare a nice healthy and complete meal, and that is it. No back-up choices, crackers from that pantry, or chicken nuggets kept in the freezer just-in-case.

Use the less loved ingredients to make fun compositions on the plate, like smiley face, an animal, or spelling the child's name. That’ll make more likable any food.

I always say that when we are really hungry, we would eat anything. So if my children don’t even taste what I prepare I assume they are not hungry, they are excused, and can eat later.

5. Serve a Smart Choice of Foods

Serving complete and healthy meals, you’ll offer different things and most likely the children will like at least some of them.

If you have a main dish with all the components, you can allow them to discard the elements that they dislike, and eat the rest.

Serving complete and healthy meals, you’ll offer different things and most likely the children will like at least some of them.
Serving complete and healthy meals, you’ll offer different things and most likely the children will like at least some of them. | Source

6. Show Trust on the Child’s Judgment and Taste

To know if you like something you've got to try it, there is no way around it.

I ask my kids to try a bite or two, and then they can express an opinion. I'll respect that opinion.

Of course I make them taste every time I prepare that dish, no matter how many times they tell me they don't like it.

7. You’ll Eat it When You Are Hungry

I never force my children to eat, if they are playing with their food, or just don’t want to eat there is usually a good reason. Often enough the reason is that they are not hungry, sometimes they may even be sick.

So the food on their plates gets refrigerated into plastic containers, with their name on it, and it’ll be available later or at the next meal. I don’t throw away any food that is still eatable, leftovers are a good thing if you store them in a safe way.

They’ll get the same food again at a better time, until they’ll eat it all or the food is no longer edible.

Hunger is a primary need, maybe we should be more similar to animals: follow our natural instincts, trust our body, and eat only when we are hungry.
Hunger is a primary need, maybe we should be more similar to animals: follow our natural instincts, trust our body, and eat only when we are hungry. | Source

8. Say a White Lie to the Picky Eater

Yes lie, you can count this as a good lie. Let say you serve pasta with broccoli and your young child says infamous words: I don’t like it.

You can put up a dumbfounded mask and go: “Really? That’s strange: last month you said you loved them! You even asked for more when you were done.” (It could have happened, right?)

The child is probably sticking to his/her guns: “I don't remember that. And I don't like it.”

You need to keep at it convincingly: “Oh, I made them again only because you liked them so much last time.... Can you at least try a few and then decide?”

At this point the best way to go is to make a pact that if he/she does not like the food, you will not force it.

And that’s when you may want to come up with a funny family memory about that dish, or say how many carbs it contains, and carbs make you jump higher and run faster, etc.

While I never forced a child to eat something truly disliked, many times with this strategy they ended up asking for more.

9. You are Expected to Eat What You Dish Up

Set you children up for success: serve them small portions, especially of food that is new to them, or you know they may dislike. They are welcome to get seconds, but everything that gets on the plate they are supposed to eat, now or later.

This teaches them some responsibility while they learn not to waste food.

10. Let the Child Help in the Kitchen

As my daughter, 7 year-old, says: it’s fun to help prepare the food because then you get to eat what you have done.

We are all less critical for things that we do ourselves, and children are more likely to taste and like a food if they contributed to the preparation.

© 2012 Robie Benve


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    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 2 years ago from Ohio

      Hi TolovajWordsmith, I agree, it all comes down to negotiation and adaptation, in food as in many other aspects of life! :)

      In many cases, as you said, it's not the taste but the texture, smell, or look of a food that is somehow bothering a person. I am thinking of my daughter, and she loves cheese, but can't stand soft cheeses. She likes eggs, but not when they are "spongy" like in frittata or some scrambled eggs.

      And my son did not like milk because it smelled bad, but offering it with a straw solved the problem. :)

      Thanks a lot for your comment!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 2 years ago from Ljubljana

      I especially like the first rule - many food need some kind of introduction. Often a story behind a food helps too. When they hear about rabbits who love carrots or Popeye and spinach kids will very likely try these veggies. And both can be served in various very tasty ways too.

      It pays to find out what exactly kids don't like. Sometimes it is not the taste. Or it can be a taste of the spice with which the dish is prepared (for instance spinach and garlic). It can also be visual appearance, smell, texture, ..., often things which be very easily improved.

      There are also additional 'tricks' (hiding less popular food into mixtures, pretending some kind of food is so good you intend to eat it all by yourself, etc.). I guess in the end everything is somehow related with negotiations and adaptations, right?

      Thanks for the tips!

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 5 years ago from Ohio

      Hi Perspicacious, I agree that restaurant portions and caloric counts are way exaggerated in the US. I have a very hard time tossing any kind of food that is not spoiled, so I'm all for the idea of keeping the surplus for the next "need some nourishment" time. Clean plate could really lead to overweight in many cases.

      However, personally I don't eat out much, I rather eat a home-cooked meal, so while I am not a good judge of best behavior, it always makes me cringe to see how much we waste as a society.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your insights. :)

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Chucking "half the take away in the bin" is a great idea, if the option of taking it home to eat the next time the person needs some more nourishment is not an option . Most "take aways" have enough calories to make two meals, and are often (in the U. S.) loaded with sugars and fats, sometimes of the worst kinds (refined and saturated respectively.) The person eating healthy can do without the immediate overload on calories and fats by dumping the second half "in the bin." Most folks tend to eat for "the clean plate club" and end up storing the unneeded calories as fat for later use in times of starvation...not seen lately in the majority of U. S. cities.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      They were - you're right, I'm sure that's a major contributing factor. Whereas now there's so much food everywhere that people don't think twice about chucking 1/2 their takeaway in the bin.

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 5 years ago from Ohio

      Nettlemere, I wonder if your parents also grew up in the famish years after WWII. Mine were born in the 30s, and the various tough times they lived through made wasting food unbearable.

      Thanks for your comment, and good luck to your brother. Two yr old can be tough cookies, but they are a lot of fun. :)

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I reckon your parents and my parents must have been related! sounds like we were brought up the same way as regards not wasting food. I shall recommend your hub to my brother who is endeavoring to broaden the palette of my 2 year old niece.