Parents, we are all very familiar with the wild food mood swings our babies experience. You know… when your baby asks to eat something oddly specific, and you make the grocery run, cook the meal, set the table, bring them the food they very specifically asked for, and suddenly they never wanted any of it??
Yup, welcome to the woes of picky eaters’ parents. Picky eating is a term used to describe a child who consistently avoids certain foods or sticks to a narrow range of foods. Up to 50% of children are picky eaters. This is a common concern among parents, as they worry that their children may not be getting enough nutrition to support their growth.
According to experts, picky eating usually starts at age 2 or 3. This is the age at which toddlers begin experiencing autonomy and becoming independent thinkers. They engage in activities such as self-feeding, making their own choices, and deciding for themselves. Choosing what to eat is one of the many ways toddlers begin to express freedom, self-expression, and independence.
Because of the rapid growth and development that children experience, you will also notice major fluctuations in preferences. One day your baby will be obsessed with a certain food (or toy, object, idea, or even game), and the next, they won’t be able to stomach the sight of it.
While we are on the topic of foods, it is common to notice changes in food choices and consumption amounts on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, some children are more sensitive toward trying and accepting new flavors, food choices and textures.
Generally speaking, choosing what to eat or what not to eat is a part of development, and parents should not worry too much about what their children eat on any given day as long as their development and weight gain are regular and the child is reaching their growth milestones.
However, if you are concerned about your child’s eating habits, reaching out to your pediatrician does not hurt. Your doctor will be able to tell you whether your child’s appetite is normal or not, and most importantly, you will get peace of mind.
When feeding a picky eater, one important thing to keep in mind is to introduce them to new foods while also avoiding conflict. More sensitive children will be averse in consuming certain food textures. You can always gently introduce new foods to them while also not
Here are 11 expert tips about how to introduce new foods to your picky eater:
Negative thoughts and memories affect eating habits. As a parent, the more of a positive attitude you display regarding your child’s eating habits and don’t encode the the eating process as a conflict, the easier your picky eater child might develop healthy eating habits.
It is a process that takes time, but if done right and patiently, it is sure to bring about the results you want.
Model the behavior you want to see
Children learn and imitate behaviors by watching and listening to you. And when your child watches you, they learn how, when, and what to eat. Encourage your kids to experience, taste, and see different foods and flavors.
If there are some foods that you don’t enjoy but are healthy and beneficial for your child, try consuming them in front of your child. It is very beneficial for your child to know that you are learning to like the food.
You can model how to talk about the foods on your own plate, and even you can play with your own food to help your child engage with theirs.
Involve your child in meal planning and preparation
Involving your picky eater child in planning and preparing meals has many benefits. It helps with:
- Nurturing healthy eating habits
- Encouraging your child to try foods they helped to prepare
- Increasing their self-confidence
- Sharing cultural and family traditions
There are many ways you can go about this. For example, involving your child in meal planning can include:
- Taking your child shopping with you
- Looking up recipes together
- Giving them little cooking tasks (with appropriate supervision, of course) such as counting ingredients, picking fresh herbs from the garden, sifting, and stirring.
- Willingness to try new and different things.
Enjoy family meals together
We know that parenting is a full-time job. And more often than not, parents do not have time to sit down together for a meal. Try increasing family meals. Sitting down with your child and eating together as a family.
Eating together has many benefits for both you and your child especially if they are a picky eater.
Some of these benefits are:
- It emphasizes the social aspect of eating.
- It allows time for family bonding and making memories.
- Mealtime is a great way to teach manners.
- It encourages conversation and communication.
- Family meals may promote trust between children and parents, which might be a key element in nurturing healthy eating.
- A trusting environment at the table helps your child establish a positive relationship with food and eating.
Establish a routine
Children enjoy routines because it provides them with a sense of security. Feeding schedules help your child develop regular patterns of appetite and ensure your child is well-nourished throughout the day.
In general, young children should have three meals and two to three snacks each day. A mealtime schedule might look like:
- Mid-morning snack
- Mid-afternoon snack
- Bedtime snack
Make sure you serve meals and snacks around the same time every day. This will help establish a consistent routine.
Cook the same meals for all family members
At mealtime, having at least one food on the plate that you know your child will eat is helpful.
But be sure to give everyone at the table the same food.
Your child may not eat all the food on the plate, but if you have the same foods on your plate and eat them, you will set an example for your child.
Don’t force your child to eat
Encourage your child to try new foods, but don’t get into fights about it. This will make your child associate the experience of trying new foods with conflict.
A lot of us were raised to finish everything on our plates. But that is not a healthy habit to develop in your child. Do not force your child to finish everything on their plate. Force-feeding usually leads to poor eating habits. Hence, eating when not hungry or cleaning the plate when already full should not be encouraged.
If your child rejects the food, take the food away without saying anything. Try to stay calm, even if it’s very frustrating. You can try giving them the same food again at another time.
Start with small portions
A big portion might be scary for your child. Instead, start with small portions, and you can add more as your child familiarizes themselves with the new taste.
It is also important to praise your child even if they eat just a little and refrain from using dessert as a reward. Remember never to punish them for not eating or for eating less.
Introduce new foods with another food they like
Food pairing is a great way of introducing new foods to your picky eater. Take something they already like and present it with a new food you want to include in their diet, e.g., adding some broccoli alongside a plate of mashed potatoes.
Make tasting a fun experience
You should aim to make the experience of tasting new foods fun. Exploring new foods and different things should always be a fun experience. You can do so by making food look attractive and fun.
An easy way to do this would be to offer your child food in various colors, shapes, and sizes. Then leave the plate to your child as they experience new textures, shapes, flavors, colors, and sizes on their own.
Don’t give up on a new food
Researchers say introducing a new food should happen between 8 to 15 times before your child will accept it. Offer new foods to your child gently and frequently. At first, it may feel daunting but don’t give up.
Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
References: parents.com, healthychildren.org, health.clevelandclinic.org, www.nationwidechildrens.org, www.gosh.nhs.uk,