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Managing meal time menaces

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

When children won’t eat

Feeding young children can be a real challenge. We know children need a nutrient dense diet (lots of nutrients, for the amount of energy in the food) to grow and develop properly. But what can we do to get children to eat enough of the right kinds of foods?

  • Create a pleasant eating environment. Meal time should be a happy, unhurried time.

  • Serve familiar foods with new foods.

  • Introduce new foods one at a time to gain greater acceptance.

  • Serve age-appropriate servings. Large servings make children feel overwhelmed.

  • Allow children to decide how much they will eat.

  • Serve the foods children need to grow and develop. Remember that a picky eater may fill up on cookies at snack time if they are offered. Serve these foods only occasionally.

  • Allow children to participate in meal time preparation. Setting the table or helping to stir the vegetable dip may be all that is needed to encourage better eating.

  • Serve interesting foods that will appeal to children. Bite-sized pieces, interesting shapes, small muffins and funny sounding names are just a few of the ideas for you to try.

  • Remember that children can balance their diets over several days, not one meal or one day. Make a variety of foods available to theme ach week.

  • Serve attractive, good tasting food. Food should taste and look good as well as be good for the child.

Spicing up the flavor

Young children generally enjoy the natural flavor of foods. Sometimes it is appropriate to use seasonings that will add interest to the foods served to children, especially if the amounts of salt, fat and sugar are moderate. Spices and herbs can add to the enjoyment of eating. Keep in mind that children taste food differently than adults. You will want to adjust seasoning to your children’s taste. If you want to introduce new and interesting natural flavors to the meals you prepare, here are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Begin to use spices and herbs in small amounts. Start with 1/4 teaspoon for four cups of food. You can always add more if needed.

  • Taste foods to see if the amount is right for the children (remember to use a clean spoon each time you taste).

  • Introduce one spice or herb at a time, just as you would a new food.

  • Add new spices and herbs as they are accepted by the children.

  • Learn which spices and herbs work best with which foods; for example, cinnamon helps foods taste sweeter without adding sugar.

  • Grow herbs in the child care center or day care home and let the children tend the plants and harvest the leaves for use in the meals they are served. 
    Add ground spices with other dry ingredients for easier blending.

  • Avoid hot peppers and other strong flavored seasonings that might be objectional to some children.

  • Store dried spices herbs and seeds in a coo, dry place to keep them fresh.

  • Store fresh herbs in a glass of water covered with a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Read more

Things Not to Say to a Picky Eater

Dealing With the Picky Eater

How Can I Motivate a Picky Eater?

Source: What’s Cooking?, National Food Service Management Institute. Used with permission

Updated May 9, 2018 8:17am