I often have moms tell me their kid is picky or they can’t get them to eat their vegetables. Getting kids to eat healthy is really hard these days. Picky eaters become the center of the meal. We start pleading with our children – “just one more carrot,” “are you sure you don’t want more?,” “you can’t have this until you eat your vegetables.”
Most kids start becoming “picky” when they are toddlers. This is the developmental age where they want to become independent, and one thing they have control over is what they put in their mouth! Also, it is important to know that it takes time for children to develop and acquire tastes for foods. Research has shown that it can take 10 to 15 offerings of a food before a child will acquire a taste for a new food. How many people continue to offer foods that many times after their child has refused it? Thus, it is important to keep offering a wide variety of foods even if your child didn’t eat much of it the first few times you gave it to them. Can you remember a food you didn’t like as a child but now you do? I do. I hated mustard, tomatoes, and quiche, all things I love to eat now. How did it happen that I now love them? I kept trying them. Most foods if you try them enough you start to like them. Parents, this is the name of the game, keep giving a wide variety of foods to your kids. Eventually they will become familiar with new foods and even start to like them.
Here are a few other tips and tricks to avoiding mealtime wars:
- You provide, they decide: Respect that your child knows when he or she is hungry. If they only eat a little for dinner that day and they say they are done, that is ok. Respect their ability and NEED to understand their own satiety cues.
- Routine, routine, routine: Try to eat the same time every day. Children especially toddlers and young kids need routine and they depend on it.
- Don’t let your child graze: Almost everywhere I go I see kids with sippy cups and snacks in their hands. If you are going to provide a cup to your child between meals only offer water. Filling up on milk, juice or snack foods between meals can make children less hungry for food served at mealtime.
- Continue to offer a wide variety of foods: Its important to talk with your child about the color and texture of food and show them that we enjoy eating these foods too.
- Make it fun: If your child doesn’t try a food or like it the first time, offer it in a new way the next time. Incorporate it into a soup or mash it, or cut it into fun shapes (use cookie cutters). Serve it with a food that your child likes or is familiar with such as mac & cheese, or add veggies to pizza or pasta. Make smoothies with vegetables and fruit.
- Include your child in the meal planning and cooking: Ask your child which foods they want to eat at the grocery store, have them pick a meal when planning your weekly meals. Offer age appropriate tasks for helping in the kitchen with cooking. They can mix or set the table. Our daughter loves to pretend she’s cooking while we cook, so we give her a bowl and spoon and let her pretend to mix stuff.
- Lead by example: We can’t expect our children to eat healthy if we don’t do it ourselves!
- Don’t buy foods you don’t want them to eat: If you don’t want them to eat goldfish or cookies or chips don’t buy them. Out of sight out of mind will work for kids!
- Make the dinner table technology free time: It’s important to sit down and have dinner as a family if possible, but at minimum no cell phones, tablets, TVs. Distractions can make it easy for children not to complete the task at hand.
- Food is for nourishment, not a reward or punishment:Don’t withhold dessert if your child doesn’t finish their meal or as a form of discipline. Consider only offering dessert 1 to 2 times a week and other days don’t eat dessert.
- Offer veggies/fruits first: Children are most hungry when they first sit down to eat, take advantage of that and offer these foods first.
- Don’t be a short order cook: Making a meal specifically for your child will only encourage the picky eater behavior. Try to incorporate something you know your child likes into each meal. It is important your child stay at the table even if they are done eating.
For more information and references about picky eaters, please refer to these sites. If you are concerned that your child’s picky behavior is affecting their growth, please speak to your child’s doctor.