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Lately, my kids, 4 and 7, have become very picky eaters and don't eat much. If they do eat, they eat prepacked food or anything deep fried like chicken in small amount or few bites. As result, my wife and I are frustrated.

So, I want to know what do kids like to eat the most and how to make them eat the cooked food? My one son hates anything with veggies. He will literally throw up.

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    This is a very subjective question and completely depends on the children in question (for example, I have one child who loves raw veggies, and another who hates any vegetable except cooked broccoli!)... Is there a way this can be rephrased? Are you most interested in how to ensure they get a balanced diet while respecting their preferences, how to get them to eat vegetables, how to target recipes to children's tastebuds, or what?
    – Acire
    Apr 29 '15 at 16:39
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    I am voting to close as a duplicate of the Picky Eater question; whlie it's not a complete dup, I think that as this question stands that's the most answerable part of this question. If you're looking for something substantially different from that, please edit to reflect exactly what you're looking for. Thanks and welcome to our site!
    – Joe
    Apr 29 '15 at 17:19
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Contrary to the comments on the question, I do believe there is a separate answer to this question. However, there is some overlap with regard to the solution the OP may be looking for.

The question hints at the answer. The kids in this case like processed foods.

What do processed foods have?

High sugar and fat content.

The human body is an amazing machine, and it's fueled by fats and carbohydrates. Unlike proteins, which are used as building blocks for our bodies, the other macronutrients are much better sources of energy.

Our bodies are designed to seek out sources of food energy, and our brains reward us for finding them. It's why sugar and fat taste so good. The receptors in our brains evolved to tell us carb-loaded foods were good, because they were rare but helpful for our survival.

It's also been proposed that children, specifically, have higher cravings for sweets and sugars, related to hormone secretion due to bone growth.

So, biologically speaking, junk food is the most rewarding food for a young child's body and brain.

Children will often prefer snacks and junk food, simply because they're hard-wired to, due to the fact that we evolved when such sugar and fat rich food was incredibly scarce.

If they have the option of the junk over healthy food, children will likely choose the junk.

How do you feed your kids healthily, now that they have a taste for processed foods?

The issue isn't really what do kids like, which can be anything with sugar and fat, but how to get them to eat other things. They seem to eat well enough, it's just not the food you want them to eat.

It's going to take some work. The prepackaged and processed foods you rely on will have to go. If your child's brains know that there's an alternative, then their biological imperative is going to be for the other food. This means they'll reject your healthy offerings, throw it up for drama, and whine/complain/throw tantrums until the parents give in.

If those options are removed, you'll likely meet a great deal of push back from the kids and have a lot of stress over the issue. The kids may even try to sneak junk food, or get it from other sources (school, friends). But, if you're consistent and persistent, then eventually they'll realize they have to eat the regular food provided. Their brains should switch from going after the highly rewarding food that's no longer available to just whatever food is available.

That said, there are steps you can take to make the regular food more rewarding. Look for vegetables and fruits that you can add to dishes to make them sweet. Even savory, protein-rich dishes can have sweet sauces added to them to help close the gap between pure processed sugar and natural carbohydrates.

If you want more information about how to get them to eat the other foods, then the "picky eater" questions on this site will be a great help.

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  • Good job finding an answerable question "behind" the question :)
    – Acire
    Apr 30 '15 at 11:44
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    @Erica Sometimes it helps to be very literal.
    – user11394
    Apr 30 '15 at 16:47
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My opinion and experience is based on what I do with my picky eaters. It may not work for you but it is working for us.

Having no shame, I am fine with making a fool of myself in public. My 4 year old daughter and her 7 year old cousin ordered pancakes at a restaurant. Odd seeing as neither have ever eaten them and when they do order them they get the ones with chocolate chips or some other horror and pick out the bits, leaving the pancake to rot in waste. This time they had only the option of regular pancakes and when it came time to eat I regaled them with the tales of the mighty pancake village and legends of two monsters who could never get their fill of delicious pancake meat. While it was a spectacle, the two of them thrashed their pancake villages and devoured the meats of the poor pancake village, leaving nigh a single trace of the once proud people in their wake.

Of course, I am often called upon to tell mighty tales of great battles between the broccoli warriors, fruit caravans, cities of rice, or any variety of other unfortunate food based dwellers cursed to endure the wrath of the monster. But it is not constant, and my girls do eat their food much better after years of finding creative ways to engage them.

It may be arguable that society expects a certain behavior when eating and I agree it is good to understand that feast time is not always battle time. But making that bridge was a mild task compared to the beastly challenge of getting them interested in food at all.

In the beginning they too would only eat a small variety of things. Costco has opened many doors because the weekends are ripe with samples and I can challenge my girls to feast upon the samples as we pass by. We discovered much that they like, and when you have picky eaters, just one new food is like a whole world of relief. My one daughter only liked yogurt and canned peaches, so when she accepted bagels and cream cheese it was enormous.

The world will tell you to keep offering them things. To take the non-obligational path and they're probably right. But I can't let my kids go to bed without knowing they are eating well, go to preschool without a breakfast, etc. So I found ways to entertain them enough to convince me they were getting the nutrients they need.

Costco also has a gummy multi-vitamin they like. A DHA one as well. So even if they are eating badly otherwise, at least they got some vitamins from those.

Though they have been exposed to foods like McDonalds and bags of chips, they are not even remotely available in their routines and they have never made it a habit to insist on those kinds of food. That could be because I make sure they eat before we go out anywhere where they may be hungry and processed foods are just convenient. I understand that may not be an option for everyone.

To summarize, I think we got over the major hurdles of the picky eaters by engaging them in interesting ways, even if those ways are the kind that most people won't want to do or fear they will become habitual or required. What foods they eat now are probably not relevant because children vary so much. What mine eat may not work for you, but the process of discovery could be shared.

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    Grocery store samples is a brilliant way to get them to try new tastes with little pressure... Plus the store gets the blame if the food is "yucky" instead of the parent ;)
    – Acire
    Apr 30 '15 at 2:21
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Do they like Macaroni & Cheese? My kids did and I would use the food processor to cut the broccoli or cauliflower really tiny to mix in. I told my kids they were "spices". There is a cookbook out that gives you ways to sneak veggies into foods kids like, but I don't remember the name. My friend bought it 2 years ago for her kids. Maybe you can google it?

Another thing my kids liked was spaghetti and marinara sauce. Carrots, shredded small, sneak into the sauce really well and reduce the tomato's bitterness making it sweeter for the kids. My kids liked mandarin oranges too because they were "their size", so I would put them over cottage cheese for a "treat". Apples with peanut butter are also healthy and my kids liked them as well when I cut them into little slices or fun shapes. To get my youngest (the pickiest) to eat peanut butter and jelly (small amount) sandwiches, I used big cookie cutters to make fun shapes. Have you tried jello jigglers? You can use the cookie cutters on the jigglers with them as an activity too. It was all about presentation at that age.

If I made it sound fun they were more likely to try it. I called fruit concoctions "treats" and they thought of it as something good and special as a result. You could also try a "fondue" type dinner. Kids that age love making food an activity and love to dip things.

Personal pizzas on even english muffins were a hit too. You set out bowls of the toppings and let them pick. This gives them control and input as well as an activity. You can show them how with yours and then let them try with your help as necessary. I hope this gives you some fun ideas/solutions.

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  • Hi, and welcome to the site. May I suggest that you please separate your answer into paragraphs? It's a very nice answer, and it will be easier to read that way. Thanks, and again, welcome! Apr 29 '15 at 20:34
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How about looking at some magazine recipes and cookbooks at the library together, coming up with a plan, going shopping together, and then doing a cooking project? Obviously, this wouldn't be all in one day! The glossy photographs are helpful to spark the child's fantasy. Make sure you choose magazines or cookbooks that don't have sweets, baked goods, etc.

Don't try to hard to find a magical dish that will work for both children. Focus on one at a time at first.

You can run out of the processed stuff and then not get around to buying any more.

My picky eater sometimes enjoys grilling.

He loves going out to eat. He'll try all manner of things off the beaten path as long as it wasn't prepared by me in our kitchen.

Once he's gotten the hang of eating something elsewhere, I am sometimes able to introduce it at home successfully.

Blindfold taste tests can be a fun way to get a child to try something new. For example, small cheese cubes, one mild Cheddar and one some other flavor. Or yellow squash versus zucchini.

I sometimes quietly put a raw finger food, such as carrots, sugar snap peas, or thin sliced orange or yellow bell pepper, next to the child while he's doing homework or doing bedtime reading with his father. I do this without a fanfare. Sometimes he eats it and sometimes he doesn't. That's okay with me.

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