Have you ever spent time preparing a meal that your child enjoyed last week, only to have them refuse to eat it today? During childhood, kids develop food preferences, which can be an unpredictable process. You may worry that your child isn’t eating enough or getting enough diverse nutrients in what they choose to eat. Though picky eating is normal, it’s frustrating for both parents and children. Read on for 10 tips about helping your picky eater.
1. Prioritize Meal Time
Eat together as a family as often as possible. Turn off the television, tablets, and phones, and use family meals as a time to model healthy eating. Make and serve one meal for everyone in your family, even if your child refuses to eat it. This encourages picky eating. With each meal, include at least one food your child likes. Make sure each meal is balanced, whether or not your child eats it.
2. Stop the Struggle over Food
If your child refuses to eat, trust them. Cultivate their ability to listen to their bodies and eat when they are hungry. Your responsibility is to provide food, and your child gets to decide to eat it. Pressuring your child to eat or punishing them if they chose not to can make them dislike foods.
3. Avoid Using Bribes
Using treats as a reward for eating other foods can provide a short-term win but a long-term loss. The reward food can become even more exciting, while the other food you wanted them to try turns into a chore. Bribing can lead to more battles during dinner.
4. Expose Your Child to a New Food Many Times
If your child refuses to try a new food once, don’t give up! Keep offering new or disliked foods multiple times. It can take as many as 10 exposures to a new or disliked food before your child will accept it. Having a firm schedule of meals and snacks will ensure your child is hungry at meals when new foods are introduced.
5. Offer a Variety of Foods
Prepare meals with a variety of healthy foods, especially fruit, vegetables, and high protein foods. This will expose them to new flavors and textures. Add herbs and spices to simple foods to make them tastier and more enticing.
6. Make Dinnertime Playtime
Your child is more likely to try new foods if they are fun. Serve food in a variety of colors. Cut food into fun shapes. Serve foods that are meant to be dipped. Finger foods are also popular with kids as they reinforce their autonomy and let them feed themselves. Make sure the pieces are small to avoid choking.
7. Give Your Child a Choice During Meal Planning
Kids love to exercise their control. On a trip to the grocery store or farmers’ market, let them pick fruits and vegetables to make during the week. Read cookbooks together and ask your child to choose new recipes to try.
8. Put the Kids to Work
Children of all ages can complete tasks in the kitchen. From setting the table to slicing ingredients to putting away leftovers, there is a fun, age-appropriate job for every child. Be sure to provide supervision!
9. Build Food Bridges to New Experiences
If your child has accepted a food, use a food bridge to introduce new foods. These foods can have a similar color, flavor, and texture to the accepted food. This increases the variety of what your child will eat. For example, if your child likes carrots, you can introduce them to sweet potatoes and pumpkin.
10. Pair Familiar Foods with New Foods
Try serving unfamiliar foods or flavors, like sour or bitter, with familiar flavors children prefer, like sweet and salty. Your child might not like broccoli, which tends to be bitter. If you pair it with salty grated cheese, they might like it!
Concerned about your child’s diet? Schedule an appointment to talk with your pediatrician.