If you’re struggling with a picky eater, vegan or otherwise – or in fact even if you’re not – I highly recommend reading Evidence-based tips for getting kids to eat good foods by Gwen Dewar PhD on her fantastic website, www.parentingscience.com.
My tips are based partly on her findings and other research, and partly on my personal experience:
Don’t pressure kids to eat, or eat up. Pressure to eat a particular food risks putting them off that food for life, while pressuring kids to clear their plates teaches them to keep eating after they’re full, which really isn’t helpful. It might feel wasteful to throw food away, but it’s just as wasteful – and more harmful – to eat food that we don’t need to eat. If kids are persistently pouring themselves too much cereal, for instance, give them a smaller bowl. I find teacups are a better size than bowls for smaller appetites, and they can always have seconds…
Try to trick the palate of a picky eater who is resistant to trying new foods by pairing new foods with flavours the love. Kids are more likely to accept a new food—even a bitter or sour food–if their first exposure to it is paired with sweetness.
Don’t underestimate the power of “yet” Make it clear to children that tastes are something that change over time. Whenever a child says “I don’t like that”, mirror that back to them, “oh, you don’t like that yet?”. Explain that taste buds are replaced with new ones every ten days, as this helps them to accept the idea that they need to keep trying a food, and that by not trying again each time a food is offered they risk missing out on a food that will end up becoming a favourite. Be sure to tell them about foods that you hated as a child but now love.
Talk to kids about nutrition It might not solve your picky eater problems overnight, but
Get kids cooking even if they don’t initially eat what they cook. When one of my daughters was in a particularly fussy stage she used to eat more of her evening meal raw while helping prepare it than she did once it made it to the table – but that made the actual mealtime more relaxed, because I knew that she’d already eaten enough of the uncooked tofu, frozen peas, and raw red pepper that it wasn’t the end of the world if she didn’t like the end result. Homemade veggie burgers are a great medium for getting kids to invent their own concoctions – and if the palate of ingredients you provide for them to choose from is carefully chosen, there’s a good chance they’ll end up with something nutritious and tasty.
Be a good role model – and expose your children to positive peer role models.
Use psychology to help you. When my daughter’s nursery asked whether I could suggest anything that might help them get her to eat when she was there, I suggested that they put all the other babies in their highchairs first, so that she felt like she was missing out on something – that way when her turn came she felt like being sat in the highchair was something she wanted, not something that was being done to her. Once in the highchair, she was then the last to be given her meal. It worked!
This page is not complete – more extensive advice with full references coming soon.