Feeding a picky eater can be an incredibly stressful experience for parents as well as children. Oftentimes children prefer highly-processed nutrient-poor foods over healthy choices like fruits and vegetables. Don’t succumb to the please and tears of the picky child and allow for some peace at the dinner table by following a few simple tips and strategies for keeping your picky eater healthy and happy:
Make it fun
Huge heaping portions of unfamiliar foods can be daunting for a young child, especially when they are forced to eat something. Instead, consider creating a sensory evaluation experiment (science over side dish) and let them play with their food a bit! You may also consider doing this outside of mealtime to take the pressure off of the child – make it special and give them a taste “before anybody else does” while preparing the meal. Another fun option is to give your child the same veggies in different forms (raw, cooked, pureed, etc) and help them compare the options using all of their senses. Again, turn new foods into a science experiment and ask the child to describe each option and new food in terms of look, color, taste, texture, size, feel, smell, etc. By allowing picky eaters to focus on these attributes they become more familiar with the foods and are less likely to justify their fear of the unknown by using the age-old excuse- “I just don’t like it”.
Try new foods with healthy appetites!
Picky eaters are far less picky when they have a healthy appetite compared to a finicky toddler faced with a nutritious dinner served shortly after snacks and caloric beverages. Be mindful of how close to mealtimes you are providing snacks and caloric beverages. It is also worthwhile to course their meal – giving the more challenging food item first before giving the foods you know they will easily accept. Promote variety while letting your child know fun foods are not off the table
Be a good food role model
When it comes to mealtimes, choose one family meal to enjoy together with no screens or distractions- this will give you an opportunity to be a good food role model. Make sure your children see you eating nutritious foods and enjoying them, even commenting on how delicious the different foods are. Remember to stay strong and serve just one meal, even if your child resists or complains. Buckling to the demands of a picky eater is an easy mistake parents can make and usually leads to poor results. Resist the urge to reinforce your child’s pleas. If you succumb to the insistent begging for something different, you have reinforced the notion that, if your child begs long enough, they will get their way. Sometimes a small dose of tough love at dinner means a better appetite in the morning and more acceptance at breakfast.
Get them involved
Involve your finicky eater with nutritious grocery shopping, meal planning, and meal preparation in order to make them feel included. Little hands can help pick herbs and ingredients, count out ingredients, and measure amounts. Research has shown children’s knowledge of produce improves their willingness to eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. Get them involved each step of the way and watch their pickiness subside to interest in nutritional foods!
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