If you are a child care provider, then you have no doubt had to deal with a picky eater or two…or three…or four. It no longer comes as a surprise to you when your child refuses to eat what’s on their plate (unless it’s full of chicken nuggets). Dealing with picky eating is different for all children and all ages, and some children grow out of this stage rather quickly. If you prepare your own food for your child care business and are at a loss on how to handle a picky eater, try a few of these steps to ensure your kids are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet (with only a few chicken nuggets here and there).

Stick to a routine

You most likely already have a meal and snack routine implemented in your child care home. There is so much value in creating and keeping a routine, especially for younger children. Schedule times for every meal and snack, that way picky eaters always have an opportunity to eat healthy food if they choose not to eat a particular meal. However, don’t let the child skip the meal altogether. Encourage them to stay during the entire meal, even if they choose not to eat.

Don’t give in

We all know that sometimes it’s just easier to give in and prepare a meal that your child will eat. However, this action only promotes picky eating. If your child knows they will eventually get a meal they like, they will continually resist. Plus, having several children in your child care home means several different meals – no thank you!

Sitting down with your children and eating with them will also encourage them to try new foods. They may perceive it as “unfair” if they’re the only ones eating it. So grab a seat and munch on some vegetables with them.

Cook with them

“Kids are more interested in food when they can take part in it,” Attitudemag.com suggests. Letting children shop, prepare, and cook with you is a great way to introduce and teach them about vegetables, fruits, and other healthy food.

Related: How to Add Whole Grain-Rich Foods Into Your Menu

Bring them along on a grocery shopping trip (if your child care schedule allows for it) and talk with them about new foods and how healthy foods will help them grow up strong. If you are not able to bring your kids shopping, guide them through the pantry and refrigerator once a week to show them the new and healthy foods you have available. When you cook, let them help with basic tasks. For some ideas, follow this guide of age-appropriate activities in the kitchen.

Talk about the food

Encourage a conversation about the food they are eating during mealtime. Walk with them about the color, shape, and texture with positive words such as “vibrant, crunchy, juicy”. Bring in words and phrases you know they will respond to, such as “blueberries will make you happy and full of energy” or “did you know that Super Woman loves broccoli?” Positive talk will help children associate these words to the foods they are eating, and they will be more likely to give them a taste.

“Try serving unfamiliar foods, or flavors young children tend to dislike at first (sour and bitter), with familiar foods toddlers naturally prefer (sweet and salty). Pairing broccoli (bitter) with grated cheese (salty), for example, is a great combination for toddler taste buds,” suggests healthychildren.org.

Be patient

Remember that the goal is to have them eventually enjoy and love the food they are eating, not just to finish the entire meal at that given time. So be patient when introducing new foods. Combine new foods on their plate with food they like. For example, spaghetti and green beans or cheese and broccoli. Just tasting the food is one step closer to picky-eating freedom!

If you have offered a food several times (by several, I mean at least 15-20 times) and your child still doesn’t enjoy it, respect that it really might not taste all that great to them. Children need to learn about new foods and experiment with the textures many times before they can accurately determine if they really don’t like something.

At the end of the day, picky-eating is generally a phase that almost all children go through. Stick to these methods with your latest picky eater, and work with new strategies to encourage healthy, new foods in their diet. Reach out to other child care providers through an online forum or social media to get some clever and fun ideas for food introductions. Do you have some great ideas that have worked for you? Share them with us in the comment section below!