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Explore nutrition tips, kids’ meal plans, kids’ activities, recipes and more from pediatric nutritionist, Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE.

Getting Kids to Eat What You Cook

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Getting Kids to Eat What You Cook

Challenged with getting your kids to eat what you cook? You’re not alone! Here are some strategies that dietitians recommend. 

I love this saying by Buddy Hackett: “As a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.” Imagine how simple dinnertime would be if we all stuck to this rule. Instead, it can be tempting to prepare two or three different dishes every night because, as they say, “Johnny won’t eat that.” However, instead of falling into the role of a short-order cook, there are certain strategies that parents can use to help grow adventurous little eaters. While many children are naturally afraid of new foods, you can help inspire them to try new foods by getting them involved in the meal-making process! Here’s how:

Allow Your Child to Choose

Children like to be a part of the decision-making process, and allowing them to make choices helps them feel empowered. Incorporating your child into your family menu planning will teach her how to make decisions, be a team player, and understand compromise when it is not her turn to choose. Try out the following menu-planning activity:

  • Have each member of the family pick a day of the week.
  • Next, have each member of the family choose a meal, either breakfast, lunch or dinner. Mom and dad- you can choose a meal too!
  • Once everyone has selected a day and meal, have each member of the family choose what to eat at that meal. For example, I choose Tuesday dinner, and I want eggplant parmesan.

This game will not only help you develop the weekly menu and come up with your grocery list, but it will also empower your child to make choices AND teach him about planning and preparing family meals.

Take Your Child to the Grocery Store

Letting your child come along to the grocery store allows her to be involved in more of the process, and also helps build curiosity and anticipation for the upcoming meal. Remember that in addition to bringing her along, you should engage her in the shopping process! You can say something such as, “Ok, mommy’s dinner choice was eggplant parmesan this week, so we need to select an eggplant.” Take her to the produce section, show her the eggplants, and let her pick one out and put it in the cart.

Get the Kids in the Kitchen

Getting kids in the kitchen is important for so many reasons! Not only will they learn the value of meal preparation and what goes into your meals, but they will also handle the food, learn how to use spices, and see how to transform ingredients into the final product. Being involved in this process will eliminate some of that fear of trying new and unfamiliar foods.

Tasting Your New Recipes, Together!

Once the food is prepared, your child will likely be anxious to see how it turned out! Remember, it is important for adults to model the behavior that you want your children to have. So, get stoked about trying the meal, too! This goes for parents, grandparents, or any other adults who are involved in preparing the meal.

Test Your Knowledge:

1. A good reason to have kids help prepare the meal is:

  • a. It helps teach them about meal preparation
  • b. It helps teach them about different spices and ingredients
  • c. It helps eliminate some of the fear of trying new foods
  • d. All of the above

Answer  d

2. Which of the following is a good example of how a child can choose what’s for dinner?

  • a. Ask the child what he wants for dinner once he is home from school
  • b. If the child refuses to eat, ask the child what he wants instead
  • c. Have the child participate in making a weekly menu along with the rest of the family

Answer  c

Updated 2019

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About the Author

Picture of Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Heather is a registered dietitian and a board certified specialist in sports dietetics and holds a master degree in Wellness and Human Performance. She is the owner of Nutrition CheckUp, a private consulting practice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania specializing in sports nutrition, weight management, wellness and nutrition communications. She is the proud mom of three children and enjoys running, traveling, visiting new restaurants and great wine.

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