For anyone who has ever been a parent, you've asked yourself this question...a few...hundred...times. What is a parent supposed to do when their children's diet consists entirely of ketchup and green fruit snacks? I'm going to address some of the most common kid-eating issues that I've personally dealt with (and my solutions or advice given to me by other moms). I hope that if you have ideas too, you will comment and add them in! :)
*Your child wants the SAME food...every meal...no exceptions...and it isn't a particularly healthy one.
Give in. At least, some of the time. In my experience, it's better to let them "win" the argument. I find that in this case, it's more about asking for, and getting what they want as opposed to the flavors they are actually eating. But spark a compromise if possible with them. A popular rut in our house-bologna sandwich, goldfish crackers, and applesauce. In this case, I would either let them have that exact meal once a day (they can choose when-even as weird as it is, if it is breakfast time), OR, let them have an element of it at each meal (applesauce at each meal). It also helps in this case instead of asking "what would you like for lunch?" to ask "would you rather have a bologna sandwich or a peanut butter sandwich?" They are making the choice, and often will turn away from their usual staples if THEY make the decision.
*Your child HATES vegetables (or fruits, or bread, or meat, etc...).
Usually the frustration as the parent in this case is that you want them to have some variety (for nutritional purposes). There are a lot of things that can cause a child to shy away from certain foods. You are best served to investigate what causes their refusal.
Texture: Some kids are very put-off by certain textures (think crunchy carrot, mushy baked potato, slimy squash, sticky sweet potato, or squishy peas). If they have a texture that turns them off, try preparing that food in a way that texture isn't an issue. Puree the squash and mix it with mac and cheese. Roast the potatoes so they are crispy. Cook the carrots so they are softer. If texture is the issue, try it a new way.
Taste: Another category of kids don't like the taste of the offending items (veggies, fruits, etc..). There are lots of reasons for this, but unfortunately, you can't change their tastebuds. So, you have to adapt. If you want them to eat that steamed broccoli, you might just have to put some cheese on it. You can also consider "hiding" foods (puree veggies into spaghetti sauce or soups, mix in breads, etc...) but I'm not a fan of that myself. I feel like it's being dishonest with my kids. So they know what I'm putting in, but if they like the taste, it doesn't matter. More ideas on that later.
Appearance: Many kids are weirded out by the way foods look. You hear all the trendy chefs say "you eat first with your eyes." I'm certainly not suggesting that you spend countless minutes plating and garnishing your child's dinner, but think aobut it's appearance. Is it a strange or vibrant color? Shiny? Melted? Goopy? Those are also common reasons kids say "no."
Boredom: Do you find that your kid that once LOVED mac and cheese is suddenly refusing it all together? They may just be sick of it. Try something else for a while or shake it up with some new flavors.
Control: Just like adults, kids like to have some control over their environment. From the moment your child learns that he/she doesn't HAVE to open their mouth for that spoonful of strained squash or they can take their hands and knock the spoon away, they are taking control. From that point forward, they will want a say in what they are eating. They may not have the vocabulary yet to say "no, I don't want that." Instead, they will throw it, play with it, cry at it, and just plain refuse to eat it. If you offer them something different, they are learning that you have a favorable reaction to their behavior. If you refuse them something different, they are hungry and frustrated. It's really hard to find some middle ground. In these instances, I highly recommend offering something they almost always like WITH a new food (say, chicken nuggets with spinach on the side). Also in this realm, you will often get kids who don't like to be fed or want to be fed. If they won't eat it on their own, try feeding them, and vice versa. Don't worry about the mess. Sometimes it's worth it to get them to eat a decent meal!
Mix up the Routine!
Here are some things I find helpful for mixing things up a bit.
*Novelty goes a long way with kids. Use cookie cutters for their food, fun plates and utensils, and as treats, kid-friendly prepackaged items (tube yogurt, fruit snacks, etc...)
*Just because it isn't a traditional "kid-friendly" food, doesn't mean YOUR kid won't eat it! Your child may LOVE baked salmon when they're 2. They also may only eat broccoli in soup form. You never know until you try.
*Don't be afraid of toppings and dips. Many kids will eat a lot more if they have a condiment with their food. Ketchup, ranch dressing, BBQ sauce...they love to have something interactive. If you're worried about calories, buy no sugar added, fat free, and low sodium varieties. Kid palettes aren't usually as advanced as adult ones, so they may not notice the "odd" taste of light ranch dressing.
*Be careful with snacks. If your child thinks they are not going to like dinner, they will fill up on snacks beforehand. Offer them fruits and veggies during snack time and snacks with dinner to change things up a bit. Sometimes the change of pace will be refreshing for them.
*Don't assume you have to cook an entirely separate meal for your child if they are picky. Always offer them what you have (if, of course, it is safe for them to eat). They may refuse it, but there is no harm in trying! You may just be surprised.