7 tips for parents from the picky eater experts
how to get your picky eater to try more foods
Is your child a picky eater? Do you feel like you’re constantly fighting with your child to eat more than chicken nuggets or pizza? Are you making separate meals for you child, but wish everyone could eat the same thing?
Though frustrating for caregivers, picky eating can be normal for children. Picky eating can be caused by different issues, but sometimes it’s simply a matter of independence.
Caregivers may view the eating process as nutrition only, whereas kids view eating as a way to make choices and be independent. A few simple meal-time rules can help you get control and help your child become a more adventurous eater!
- Picky eating is normal! No one is at fault for your child’s picky eating habits. If anything, picky eaters are showing off their smarts because they’ve learned how to get the foods they love and avoid the foods they dislike. No matter how picky the child is, you are doing a great job feeding your child.
- Follow the division of responsibility. The division of responsibility is the gold-standard feeding philosophy. It states the caregiver is responsible for choosing the meal schedule, choosing the food served, and determining the portions of foods offered. The child is responsible for choosing what and how much they will eat of what is offered.
- Take a look at your meal schedule. Does the child seem to graze on food all day? Do they consume milk or juice all day? Allowing the child to eat or drink any time of the day disrupts their hunger and fullness cues. Instead, set a schedule for meals and snacks. All meals and snacks will be at the table, and all calorie-containing drinks will be at meals. Meals should be limited to 30 minutes and the child should be offered only water between meals. Write out the schedule and hang it somewhere for the child to see. When the child asks for a snack or drink outside of the schedule, you can show them the schedule for the next meal or snack time.
- Always offer new or unwanted foods. If the child is not used to seeing a food, they are less likely to eat it when it is offered to them. Offer one or two bites of the unwanted food to reduce food waste.
- Trust that your child knows when they are hungry or full. Children are born with a natural sense of hunger and fullness. If a child chooses to skip a meal, that is okay! We want the child to feel that they have choice over their eating habits and can listen to their body when deciding if they are hungry or full. Forcing the child to eat not only disrupts their hunger/fullness cues, but they are also even less likely to try that new food. When a child doesn’t feel forced to eat, they are more likely to choose new foods on their own.
- Make food fun! Allow them to (safely) help cook meals. If you are chopping fruits or vegetables, have the child move the chopped food from the cutting board to the container (once the knife is safely put away). Do activities that encourage food play, such as finger painting with pudding/applesauce/yogurt or stamp painting with sliced veggies. Make a forest with mashed sweet potatoes, broccoli florets, and celery sticks and use plastic dinosaurs or army figures to play in the forest. Use your imagination and have fun!
- Be patient with change. It can take 20 or more tries of a food before a child will eat that food. These tips are not quick fixes, and your child may become frustrated. Just like any other transition for that child (such as weaning from bottles, stopping a pacifier, potty training, etc.), it will be a struggle before they adjust. This challenge will also pass!
Though many children will improve eating habits using the tips above, some are picky for other reasons. If you feel your child’s eating habits are more serious, speak with your pediatrician. They can refer you to a specialist to help determine the cause of picky eating habits and determine a specialized plan for your child.