These Parents Found the Smartest Way to Deal with Picky Eaters

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Natalie Grasso)

Kids think it’s funny to mess with adults. It’s just the way of the world. They think it’s hysterical to prank call their parents, hide their grandparents’ remote controls, and hide from the teacher during roll call. They also think it’s adorable to not try new foods at the dinner table that they will willingly eat at the cafeteria at lunch.

So, how are you supposed to get your kids to eat new things? I have a slightly sneaky way that actually works.

Get Your Kids to Eat New Foods by Throwing a Peer Pressure Party

No wait, I’m being serious! This “theory” isn’t studied or consistent enough to be a science and it’s not elevated enough to be an art. But I think peer pressure often has an upside when it comes to kids trying new foods.

So why does peer pressure work? Is it that it’s more fun? Is it that your kids want to impress each other with the cool or potentially gross stuff they can try? At the end of the day, if your child finally tries guacamole (which you knew they would like because, hello, guacamole is pretty much ambrosia on earth), who the heck cares what the logic behind it is?

If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get your child to eat sweet potatoes, bacon, or raw tomatoes for a long time, try some of these tips for a kid-approved food party. These notes are mostly for kids at least 4 years of age who can handle a little responsibility and play together for 45 minutes without a major meltdown.

(Image credit: Quentin Bacon)

1. Choose new foods at least one kid likes.

Get together with the parents and strategically plan a menu that has one food each kid likes, but few of the other kids don’t. Johnny will eat salmon but not beets or applesauce? Gina loves applesauce but won’t even try grilled cheese? By putting out a feast where at least one kid will eat at least one dish, you set the scene for your child to think, “Hey, why is Gina even eating that anyway? I’m as cool as she is and I’m going to try that to show her how fun I am … wow, that’s actually pretty delicious.”

You’d be surprised how many kids will try something because friends are eating it. It doesn’t work that way when parents eat food and try to get our kids to try it. We’re just not as impressive as playmates.

2. Go for the finger foods.

Most kids are gross. They love to eat with their hands, don’t care if they mess up their outfits, and would rather use a fork as a dinglehopper than an eating utensil. To that end, cater to them. Think sandwiches, chips, dips. Almost anything that can be eaten by a fork can be eaten by hands (spaghetti carbonara is, admittedly, a poor choice for this particular party). Plus, with fewer utensils there are fewer things for kids to use as weapons.

3. Limit distractions.

If you’ve never put on the TV, read a book, or whipped out Shopkins while dining with your little ones, the rest of the parenting community salutes you.

If, however, you have occasionally given into those little helpers to get you through dinner, this isn’t the time to rely on such crutches. After all, the kids are with friends, they have at least one food of choice on the table, and there really isn’t any need for outside stimulation. The fewer distractions there are, the higher the chance the kids will notice what their friends are eating and might feel like giving it a try themselves.

4. Add some interactive component.

Can the kids top their own pancakes? Put their own veggies in a tortilla and wrap them up? Choose different dips for raw veggies? If so, go for it. Making eating fun is a huge part of enjoying meals. And while it might mean more cleanup, it also might mean you don’t have to pull out chicken nuggets for the 6,000th dinner in a row.

5. No adults allowed.

This suggestion is obviously reliant upon the age of the kids and discretion of the parents. However, if you can set the kids up on a picnic blanket in the living room or at the dining room table while the adults are in the living room, it might foster some more bravery, creativity, and less stubborn, “I told you, mom, I’m never trying string cheese! Never!”

With no parents around to rebel against, kids might be more likely to experiment. A little freedom can be a very liberating feeling and might inspire some foodie flexibility. If you’re nervous about a group breakdown, you can always set up a discreet baby monitor to keep an eye on your youngsters.

Have you ever had a “peer pressure” party to help your kid try new foods? Let us know in the comments.