If you have picky eaters in your family, you already know the signs of when they dislike a meal: a blank stare, a turned-up nose, the plate pushed away. Instead of getting upset with their pickiness and falling into familiar mealtime battles, try a new tactic. Ask: "How can I make that better for you?"
This question seems simple, but it can work like magic to open lines of communication between you and your children, and can give kids a feeling of control to make the meal more enjoyable. It also may take the pressure off you, since you won't have to guess what they want — which changes frequently, anyway.
Phrasing is key. Instead of a negative question — such as, "Why don't you like it?" — a positive question allows for constructive problem-solving and innovative solutions that you create as a team.
Make It Better
The first time you ask "How can I make that better for you?" your child may not know how to answer. That's OK. Here are some common complaints and suggested solutions (note that nuts and seeds are choking hazards for children under 4):
- "The food is too hot."
Put the plate in the fridge for a few minutes or add ice to hot soup.
- "The food is too cold."
A quick zap in the microwave or a few minutes under the broiler will help.
- "The food is plain."
Use "sprinkles" to add pizzazz to plates: flax seeds, sesame seeds, slivered almonds, fresh mint, shredded coconut, nutritional yeast, cinnamon, or shredded Parmesan or cheddar cheese.
- "The food is boring."
Add a dip such hummus, guacamole, mild salsa or a yogurt-based tzatziki. A dollop of dip adds flavor and fun.
- "The food is too crunchy."
Lightly steam vegetables or add a sauce or spread to crackers or toast.
- "The food is too creamy."
Add texture to soup or yogurt with nuts, seeds, panko breadcrumbs, croutons, granola, diced vegetables or fruit
- "The plate has [fill in the blank] on it, and I don't like it."
Something as simple as a speck of green herbs or a bit of diced red pepper can be enough to ruin an entire dish for a child. Give your child permission to put the offending food to the side of the plate.
Be warned: The solution that works today may not work tomorrow. The answer to "How can I make that better for you?" will often change but it will always lead to some answer. Whether it's a sprinkle of cheese or removing the "green stuff," a simple question can save you from troublesome mealtimes and ensure everyone enjoys what they are eating.