While there are some parents that may be blessed with children that will eat almost anything, the truth is that the majority of parents will at some point have to deal with a picky eater. In some cases, this may be simply a phase they go through where a food they once enjoyed is suddenly looked upon with disdain, while in other cases, children may dislike a food they will spend their entire lives avoiding. There are a number of different reasons why a child may dislike certain foods but it is, of course, important to help your child not only enjoy a balanced diet but also be willing to try new foods. Here are ten tips for parents on how to help your picky eater.
1. Choose your battles carefully
This is probably the number one rule for parenting in general, but it is particularly true of food. It is important to always keep in mind that ultimately your child’s body is on your side. Not only will it drive them to eat eventually, but our bodies naturally crave the foods we need for good health. While this natural instinct can, of course, be derailed by certain ingredients like sugar or other additives that can make unhealthy foods more attractive to young eyes, work with your pediatrician and always try to err on the side of getting their minimum needs met rather than trying to win every battle.
2. Get creative
Some children do not like the texture, look or even color of certain foods but they don’t have to know they are eating something in order to get the nutrition from it. Some children may not like cauliflower because they think it looks like a brain, but you can always chop cauliflower up to put in sauces or soups or steam it and mash it. The same is true of many fruits and vegetables. Disguise them in different ways like soups and smoothies.
3. Let them play with their food
There was a time when parents would get angry at children for playing with their food, but they might actually be far more inclined to eat foods that appeal to their imaginations. If you let them, they might play jungle with some animal crackers and broccoli or form a race track with their carrot sticks before eating them. Planting your own garden and having children help with food preparation can make children more interested in trying a new vegetable.
4. Let them choose their own food
As adults, we may not notice how stuck in our ways we are about certain foods that “go” with each other and foods that do not. Let children get creative and explore their own food preferences. You can set out a selection of different chopped up vegetables and different sauces or toppings, such as peanut butter, yogurt or mustard and let them create their own combinations. You can even lay out different sandwich ingredients or different types of bread and let them build their own masterpiece.
5. Give them time
In the US, it has become all-too-common for food to simply be something we scarf down on our way to somewhere else. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have already tasted and consumed thousands of different types of food and our preferences are nearly set in stone. Like almost everything in their lives, many foods are still a new experience for kids, however, so give them time to actually taste and explore. You must give a new food to a child ten times (ten different meals) before you decide to not offer it anymore.
6. Pair new things with comfortable favorites
Many children have a favorite food they would eat every day if they could. If you want them to try new things, try asking them to simply take a small bite of the new food before rewarding them with the comfort food. Remember that life is always going to be a struggle between trying something new or sticking with what is comfortable. Try to strike a balance between the two.
7. Use better ingredients
Sometimes, the key is not to try and get them to eat a different food but simply to make a healthier version of a food they already like. If they love macaroni and cheese, you can make it with whole grain pasta and sneak some vegetables into the cheese sauce for a healthy, balanced meal. If they love ranch dressing, try using the same seasonings in a yogurt base.
8. Don’t be afraid of a short rut
You’ll always want to work with your pediatrician to make sure your child is getting the baseline nutrition they need, but if they happen to be fixated on a food you can get enough nutrition into, don’t be afraid to let their obsession run its course. Kids can be fickle and while they may want the same thing for a week, once they get it out of their system, they may not want that same thing again for months.
9. Talk about what they like and don’t like and why
When you find a food your child loves, ask them what it is they like about it. That will help you make better choices in the future that are in keeping with their preferences. For instance, it may turn out that they love Cheetos because they are orange, which means they may like carrots or oranges just as much. They may not like yogurt or bananas because of the texture, so you can offer them crunchy foods instead.
10. Hold food tastings
There is a reason wineries hold tastings and many restaurants offer samples of new offerings. When you invest in a full meal or full bottle of wine, you are likely to stick with what you know you like because you are making a large investment. If you don’t have to make a full investment in something you might not like, you are more likely to try it. If you want to make a large meal you are not sure your child will like, make them something different you know they will like and just ask them to try a small sample of the meal you made.
Phases of picky eating is normal toddler behavior. However, if you are noticing that your child will only eat a handful of different foods, or can’t tolerate certain textures, it may be time to have a conversation with your pediatrician. Some sensory issues can manifest as picky eating. We’d love to help you determine if there is a problem, or if your child is just going through a phase. Give us a call, we are here to help.